Carole Maso's novels (Ava
, The American Woman in the Chinese Hat
) have been called postmodern. Avant-garde. You do not devour them, as you might "popular" fiction. You give yourself over to them: to their meanderings, their idiosyncrasies, their eroticisms, their quirky narratives. Maso is tired of the typical New Yorker
short story; she bemoans writers' willingness to conform in order to get published; and, yes, she is downright bored by those who think an essay should have "a hypothesis, a conclusion, [and] should argue points." While it is clear from these essays that Maso rails against a white-male publishing establishment, she is not so much a contrarian as simply determined to do it her way--even if she has to move to Europe to escape the influence of others.
From the start, says Maso, "I was never much for ordinary narrative.... Even as a child ... I would wander year after year in and out of our bedtime reading room, dissatisfied by the stories, the silly plot contrivances, the reduction of an awesome complicated world into a rather silly, sterile one." Fiction, she feels, should offer "a place for the random, the accidental, the overheard, the incidental." She sees the novel not as a neat, little self-contained package, but "as a huge, shifting, unstable, unmanageable canvas. Smudged with lipstick, fingerprints, crumpled, tear-stained, many-paged." In these 10 essays, Maso alights on her feelings about language and fiction, the teaching of creative writing ("part of why I'm here is to teach them to be bad, to question, to disobey"), her friendship with the composer Gustave Richter, gay and lesbian writing, and countless other topics. The book meanders. It is idiosyncratic and poetic. No matter your feelings about traditional narrative--and traditional essay form--you can't help but be moved by Maso's ability to live and work outside the lines and by her unbounded passion for language. "When I write sentences I am at home...." says Maso. "In the gloating, enormous strangeness and solitude of the real world, where I am so often inconsolable, marooned, utterly dizzied, all I need do is to pick up a pen and begin to write--safe in the shelter of the alphabet--and I am taken home." --Jane Steinberg
From Publishers Weekly
"Line by line I have tried to get closer to an erotic language...and enter a sexual reverie on the level of language." Thus Maso, author of six novels (Ghost Dance; Defiance) and a powerful presence in the New York literary world, describes her critical/creative project of "ecstatic criticism" in this latest offering. Defying generic distinctions like "personal essay," "critical theory," "poetry" and "autobiography," Maso provides readers with 10 pieces that, on one level, are freewheeling in style and content and, on another level, are deeply focused and agenda-driven. In the title piece (which originated as remarks made at Brown University's Gay and Lesbian Conference in 1994), Maso encourages writers to challenge all of their assumptions about literary style ("when we make shapes on paper why... does it so often look like the traditional, straight models, why does our longing look... like John Updike's longing?"). Maso, who is from Paterson, N.J., considers herself a "daughter" of William Carlos Williams and Allen Ginsberg, although the guiding presence of Gertrude Stein seems stronger throughout, especially in a piece such as "A Novel of Thank You" (written "for Gertrude Stein"): a meta-novel, an outline for a yet-to-be written novel, including lines of thanks to Stein for "your freedoms. Released at last from the prisons of syntax. Story." Maso's is writing that goes out on a stylistic limb. As a result, readers are likely to be polarized in their reactions. Some will find her advice to "break every rule" of narrative truly subversive, while others may find it stuck in the adolescent fantasy that rebellion against authority is inherently liberating. Agent, Georges Borchardt Inc. (May)
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