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Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing, and Moments of Desire Hardcover – May 2, 2000

4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Counterpoint; First Edition edition (May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1582430632
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582430638
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,052,076 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In this collection of essays about writing, avant-garde novelist Carole Maso discusses writing, life, music, and many other topics. This collection is a must for anyone who seeks greater insight not only into Maso's own novels (Ghost Dance, The Art Lover, The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, AVA, and Defiance) as well as her collection of erotic etudes, Aureole. It is also an important book that addresses issues of representation and thus can help readers understand other postmodernist writers. These essays are a pleasure to read as they offer illuminations on the nature of art and the creative process. Maso writes what she calls "lyric novels," that is, novels that aspire to the luminous state of poetry. These essays also defy conventional expectations and achieve the lyricism of poetry. In "The Re-introduction of Color," Maso says, "How extraordinary to try and write oneself free." For all their emphasis on beauty, joy, and lyricism, however, these essays avoid flowery sentimentality. Maso attacks the dullness of much contemporary realistic fiction with sharp satire. She criticizes the stultifying effects of publishing conglomerates in limiting the range of writers. "You wonder where the hero went," she writes in another essay. "You ask where is the plot?" Maso urges us to reclaim "our belief that language is capable of a kind of utopia, speaking to myriad versions of inner and outer reality." Several of the essays in this book have been previously published, but even previous fans of Maso are likely to find at least one new gem. This collection should be read by anyone interested in literary fiction and in contemporary avant-garde novelists in particular.
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By A Customer on June 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The venerable Carole Maso has just reminded us how literature "can be" and not "ought to be", and detailed her convincing arguments in this book, "Break Every Rule". The stern Rule-Makers would have us believe that, as writers, we can't do this and that, and must adhere to some "nifty" little rules invented by rigid minds. Well, here is a voice so clear that it can shatter glasses, and it is telling us to set ourselves free. How absolutely liberating!
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By A Customer on February 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
These essays about literature (Maso's and other writers's), the act of writing, about Maso's own life are essentially an awakening, an alarm call to a new way of envisioning stories. I'm not familiar with William Carlos Williams, whom she credits as an influence, but I am familiar with Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf, whose influences are apparent in the novels I've read by Maso and in the techniques she uses to express. With each essay I was astonished at the innovative and dazzling approaches to language. In the essay "The Re-introduction of Color", Maso explores her struggle to find her writing self against the pressures of conformity and convention. This book is inspirational, educational, exquisite. Any writers or serious readers looking for ways to shake the trees of literature's stale greats will delight in this collection of essays, and each reader will find herself or himself challenged, seduced, and ultimately released.
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Format: Hardcover
Carole Maso simply cannot be categorized. With books like AVA and Aureole, she shows how language can become an experience in itself, how certain sequences of words turn into moments of such beauty that you want to repeat them over and over, write them down, hang them on the walls so you can be surrounded by them. Break Every Rule does the same thing, although at times I found myself a little turned off by the author's obvious bitterness at a publishing industry that refuses to recognize her genius (I agree that she is a genius, but I wished she would harp on it a mite less). This bitterness turns up now and again throughout the essays included in Break Every Rule. It's a curious blending of modesty and arrogance. That being said, it was a lovely and invaluable experience to see how Maso conceives her work, how she thinks, and what she believes lies in the future for the novel. It's an unflinchingly feminine/ist, liberal plea for understanding and love.
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