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In 'Consent,' an author asks: 'Me too? Did I have the agency to consent?'

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In 'Consent,' an author asks: 'Me too? Did I have the agency to consent?'

In 1996, novelist Jill Ciment published a memoir called Half a Life. It is primarily about her hardscrabble childhood in California’s San Fernando Valley, dominated by her difficult, volatile father, whom Ciment realized in hindsight was autistic. But about halfway through, Ciment’s life takes a turn, when at 16, she signs up for figure drawing classes, which she pays for with earnings from a part-time job. She develops a crush on the teacher, a married artist 30 years her senior named Arnold Mesches. Within a year, they are having an affair. Or, as she puts it, “Arnold was having an affair. I was going steady.”

That relationship is the subject of Ciment’s follow-up memoir, Consent. Half a Life was written when she was in her 40s and Arnold (as she refers to him) was in his 70s — at which point they had been married for more than 25 years. Now, eight years after his death at 93, she reconsiders their relationship in light of the #MeToo movement.

Her remarkable new book — at once forthright, thoughtful, and moving — broaches many questions: “Does a story’s ending excuse its beginning?” “Can a love that starts with such an asymmetrical balance of power ever right itself?” “How do I convey yearning for a kiss while at the same time acknowledge the predatory act of an older man kissing a teenager?”

You don’t have to read Half a Life to appreciate Consent. In fact, the second memoir, which both scrutinizes and amplifies what Ciment first wrote about her relationship with Arnold, is a far more interesting book.

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She describes their first kiss differently in the two memoirs. In the earlier version, she initiated the kiss and Arnold kissed her back, but then stopped himself and said, “Sweetheart, I can’t sleep with you. I’d like to, but I can’t…It wouldn’t be fair to you.” In the new book, he draws her to him and kisses her, and “I fervently kissed him back.”

The age of consent in California is 18. Had Arnold groomed her with extra attention in class, or with furtive glances down her blouse? What about whispering to her, “I wish you were older”? Her reply in both books: “I’m old enough.”

“Me too?” she wonders now. “Did I have the agency to consent?”

Arnold read and discussed the first memoir with her — commenting, for example, that he would never have called a student “sweetheart.” But he was not alive to respond to Consent, and Ciment tries to imagine his reactions.

She questions her earlier assertion that she would never love anyone more than Arnold: “Could I have felt so sure of my love at 17 that I knew nothing would surpass it? Or was my 45-year-old self, in the middle of the marriage and the memoir, trying to burnish the story with love lest it read like a reenactment of Humbert Humbert and Lolita’s cross-country road trip?” Was she protecting Arnold, even though the statute of limitations had long passed?

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In a particularly astute passage, Ciment highlights how language reflects changing social attitudes and colors our views — which makes it difficult to judge past behavior by today’s moral codes:

“If Arnold kissed me first, should I refer to him in the language of today —sexual offender, transgressor, abuser of power? Or do I refer to him in the language of the late 90s, when my 45-year-old self wrote the scene? The president at that time was Clinton, and the blue dress was in the news. Men who preyed on younger women were called letches, cradle-robbers, dogs. Or do I refer to him in the language of 1970, at the apex of the sexual revolution, when the kiss took place — Casanova, silver fox?”

Time also alters the words that might be used to describe teenaged Ciment: a victim or survivor in today’s parlance, a bimbo or vixen in the 90s, a cool chick in the 70s.

It turns out there was plenty Ciment omitted in Half a Life, including uncomfortable details like the fact that Arnold had not just a wife but another longstanding mistress when they first got together. And that, ever the teacher, he instructed her on sexual techniques and helped her prepare a portfolio of explicit sexual drawings from the female point of view for her application to CalArts school.

These early elisions provide a pointed reminder that all writing is selective, and memoirs are certainly no exception.

Ciment’s frankness extends to the disadvantages of being a much younger wife, including Arnold’s inevitable physical diminution, the constant specter of loss, and — more amusingly — being asked how much she’s paid to take care of the old man dozing on a park bench beside her. You don’t have to be a Freudian to note that in Arnold, who was the same age as her father, Ciment found an attentive paternal figure who “showed me who I might become.”

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But Consent — whose working title was The Other Half — makes clear that she found much more. Their “half century of intimacy” included physical and mental stimulation, companionship, power shifts, financial worries, successful creative careers, illnesses, and, through it all, artistic collaborations in which “he was my first audience, as I was his first viewer.”

Despite their many conversations about the subject, they never reached a firm consensus about who initiated that first kiss. No such uncertainty exists about their heartbreaking last one. This is a book poised to fuel plenty of discussion.

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Françoise Hardy, renowned French singer-songwriter, has died at 80

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Françoise Hardy, renowned French singer-songwriter, has died at 80

The French singer and actress Francoise Hardy wearing a fur coat in Piazza Sant’Ambrogio. Milan, 1960s (Photo by Mondadori via Getty Images)

Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty Images/Mondadori Portfolio Editorial


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Mondadori Portfolio/Mondadori via Getty Images/Mondadori Portfolio Editorial

Françoise Hardy, a renowned French singer-songwriter, actress and model, has died at age 80, according to reports. Over her career, she released more than 30 studio albums and appeared in over a dozen films — and enchanted the likes of Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Bob Dylan, who wrote a poem for her that appeared in the sleeve notes of his 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan.

“Maman est partie,” her son Thomas Dutronc wrote on Facebook Tuesday, which translates to “mom is gone.” He shared a photo of her holding him while he was a baby.

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While the exact cause of her death was not disclosed, Hardy had battled lymphatic cancer since 2004, and also had laryngeal cancer, according to Variety. In an interview with the French magazine Femme Actuelle in June 2021, she shared that she had been diagnosed with a tumor in her ear, and that her health had become so poor that it took her more than five hours a day to prepare food that she could swallow. In that interview, she also argued for the legalization of assisted suicide in France. The same month, she gave an interview by email to The Guardian because speaking had become so difficult.

The French Prime Minister, Gabriel Attal, wrote a personal tribute on social media Wednesday: “French icon, singular voice with a fierce tranquility, Françoise Hardy rocked generations of French people, for whom she will remain anchored in life’s moments,” he wrote. “For me, she is my entire childhood. “Message personnel” [Personal Message], listened to on repeat by my mother in the car. Or “Puisque vouz partez en voyage” [When You Leave on a Trip], which I sang with my sisters: they were Hardy and I [singer Jacques] Dutronc.”

Hardy was born in 1944 in Paris, during an air raid in the Nazi-occupied city, and was raised there by her single mother. Hardy received her first guitar at age 16 as a present from her largely absent father, and immediately began scribbling down songs.

Hardy came to fame when she was still just a teenager; she became France’s It Girl in 1962 at age 18, when she released a song she had written called “Tous les garçons et les filles” [All the Boys and Girls]. Nearly instantaneously, she became one of the most popular figures among France’s so-called “yé-yé” generation – “yé-yé” like the “yeah, yeah,” choruses of anglophone acts such as The Beatles.

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The melancholic lyrics of “Tous les garçons et les filles” belied Hardy’s immense appeal. “All the boys and girls my age walk along the street two by two,” she sang mournfully, her blue eyes flickering out from beneath her dark bangs. “But I go alone along the streets, my soul in pain … because nobody loves me.”


Françoise Hardy “Tous les garçons et les filles” | Archive INA
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Unlike other yé-yé singers, Hardy built a lasting musical career. In distinct contrast to the sunny tunes performed by many of her peers, her songs often kept a pensive edge. She recorded in English, Italian and German as well as French, and employed a mix of her own songs as well as those written by other songwriters.

A fashion icon, she became omnipresent on French magazine covers, and was photographed by the likes of William Klein and Richard Avedon for Vogue and other publications. Bob Dylan refused to go onstage during his first concert in Paris in 1966, until he was sure that she was in the house.

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She also appeared in films including Château en Suède (1963), What’s New Pussycat? (1965) and Grand Prix (1966). Later in life, Hardy began writing books, ranging from titles on astrology to fiction. Her autobiography, Le désespoir des singes…et autres bagatelles [The Despair of Monkeys and Other Trifles], was first published in 2008. In 2012, she published her first novel and an album that shared the same title, L’amour fou [Crazy Love].

In 1967, she began a relationship with fellow singer Jacques Dutronc; their son, Thomas, was born in 1973. The couple married in 1981 and separated seven years later, though they remained legally married until Hardy’s death.

Hardy told All Things Considered in 2018, before her final health decline, that she was still excited to make new music. “I cannot resist to the temptation of a beautiful melody,” she said. “It’s one of the things which make me really very happy. And if a musician offers me a beautiful melody, I cannot resist.”

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North Texas pastor gets 35 years for stealing $800,000 in church properties

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North Texas pastor gets 35 years for stealing $800,000 in church properties
A North Texas pastor is on his way to prison after stealing real-estate from three churches in a property deed scheme. Dallas County prosecutors on Monday announced that Whitney Foster, a pastor leading True Foundation Non-Denominational Church, was sentenced last month to serve 35 years in prison for the charge of stealing more than $300,000 in property. Foster, 56, who was previously convicted of identify theft and arson, had been leading the…
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'Horror Movie' questions the motivation behind evil acts

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'Horror Movie' questions the motivation behind evil acts

William Morrow


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William Morrow

Paul Tremblay’s Horror Movie is a peculiar horror novel that takes a refreshing look at the haunted film subgenre, while also eliminating the line between novels and movie scripts.

Dark, surprisingly violent, and incredibly multilayered, this narrative is a superb addition to Tremblay’s already impressive oeuvre that shows he can deliver the elements fans love from him — while also constantly pushing the envelope and exploring new ways to tell stories.

In June of 1993, a small group of young people got together and spent a month making a bizarre horror movie titled Horror Movie. With one camera, a skeleton crew, a script that broke a lot of rules, and almost no budget, they managed to make their film after a few setbacks and plenty of blood and accidents. While the film was never released, three scenes and a few stills were made available online, and they became the stuff of legend over the years, collecting a cult following and sparking a frenzy of speculation, online debate, and conspiracy theories.

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Now, 30 years after the original, unreleased film was made and after all the drama —psychological and emotional as well as legal — that ensued, Hollywood wants to make a big budget version and release it. The man who played “The Thin Kid,” perhaps the original film’s most iconic and mysterious character, is the only surviving cast member, and they want him to reprise his role. He still has the mask he used in the movie, and also the scars the filming process left behind. He remembers the strange things that happened on the set, the brutality that quickly became normalized while they shot dark scenes, and the chaos and destruction the film brought to all of them. Still, he agrees to help with the reboot. As things move forward and he deals with directors and movie people, the past comes back to haunt him — but “The Thin Kid” pushes forward, as always.

Reading a Tremblay novel is entering a universe in which confusion and ambiguity —”My answer was not no. I didn’t say the word ‘yes’” — reign supreme. Horror Movie is no different. In fact, this might be Tremblay’s most Tremblay novel to date. For starters, the author once again eschews the traditional novel format, this time in favor of a mix of novel and screenplay in which one bleeds into the other frequently, switching chapters and effortlessly taking readers from past to present and back again. Also, the screenplay itself is unique in format and makes the reader part of what’s happening, constantly shattering the fourth wall an acknowledging that the events are communal, that we are there, witnessing what the characters are witnessing and feeling the same sense of dread and anticipation that they feel.

While the structure of this novel is unique, the narrative itself is very easy to follow — until it’s not. The story is there, but with many purposeful holes. We know bad things happened while the movie was being filmed — accidents, injuries, extreme violence that occurred with consent — and that the whole thing ended up in court, but we don’t know how or why. And the author holds those secrets until the very end, which, as with any other Tremblay novel, holds a few surprise twists.

Most importantly, this is a narrative that questions the motivation behind evil acts. During the filming, The Thin Kid is horribly tortured: The kids who keep him hostage throw things at him, put out cigarettes on his body, and cut off part of his pinky finger. Some of that happens for real, partly to make it look convincing on screen and partly for reasons that aren’t too clear. There are several unsettling moments in this novel, and at the core of each of them are people acting horribly just because they can. Tremblay’s work has often interrogated the nature of horror and bad behavior, but never as clearly and he does here.

While Horror Movie is the kind of creepy narrative that can be enjoyed without much thinking, it’s also a multilayered novel that almost demands intellectual engagement. Besides the way the author studies awful behavior, the story also explores the unreliable nature of memory. The Thin Kid, now the adult who narrates the novel, is self-deprecating and unreliable. He remembers things a certain way, but knows that his memories might not be accurate: “We laughed. I think we laughed, or I choose to remember we laughed. I think we’re in more control of what we remember or what we don’t remember than we assume.” This purposeful lack of certainty is designed to keep readers wondering, and it succeeds at that.

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Horror Movie is strange and unsettling in the best way possible. This is a novel that’s also a screenplay, but the story all blends together perfectly. Tremblay’s unique voice and chameleonic style have made him one of the leading voices in speculative fiction, and this is one of his best novels so far.

Gabino Iglesias is an author, book reviewer and professor living in Austin, Texas. Find him on X, formerly Twitter, at @Gabino_Iglesias.

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