The Age of Consent

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Geoffrey Wolff published his first novel, BAD DEBTS, in 1969. Since then, he has published five more novels, two biographies, and one collection of personal essays. Wolff is an award-winning author and is noted for his perceptive characterizations and intelligent renderings of the social landscape. In his sixth novel, THE AGE OF CONSENT, Wolff details a family tragedy. During the 1970’s, Ann and John Jenks decide to move away from the decay of urban America and relocate in the community of Blackberry Mountain in upstate New York. Blackberry Mountain had been established by Charles (Doc) Halliday. He had been John (Jinx) Jenks’s college roommate. Halliday is a charismatic figure and has the ability of persuading others to support his nonconformist schemes. Blackberry Mountain can be best described as a sanctuary for those who wish to recapture the 1960’s counterculture. The tranquillity of the community is shattered when the Jenks’s daughter, Maisie, strips naked on the Fourth of July and, in front of family and friends, plunges off a high ledge into a shallow pool.

Wolff opens THE AGE OF CONSENT with this tragic and troubling incident. No one can understand why a healthy fifteen-year-old girl would risk serious injury or even death with such a reckless dive. Maisie is not killed, but she is seriously injured and must work her way back to health through a long and painful recuperation. Her younger brother, Ted, takes it upon himself to discover why his sister would risk her life in such a way. It becomes a lifelong quest of his, and he is shocked to find the dark secrets that surround his family and Blackberry Mountain. The marriage of Ann and Jinx unravels, and it is uncovered that Doc Halliday has made a habit of abusing young girls. Almost a decade goes by, before Ted can fit all of the pieces of the puzzle into place. Wolff does a masterful job of portraying a dysfunctional family, and how its vulnerability was exploited by the charismatic, yet sinister, figure such as Halliday. THE AGE OF CONSENT is a powerful novel about what can befall children who are thirsting to experience life when their parents are incapable of serving as a moral compass for them.