Maso, Carole 1955(?)–
Maso, Carole 1955(?)–
PERSONAL: Born c. 1955, in NJ; father a musician, mother a nurse; companion of Helen Lange; children: Rose. Education: Vassar College, B.A., 1977.
CAREER: Illinois State University, Normal, IL, writer-in-residence, 1991–92; George Washington University, Washington, DC, writer-in-residence, 1992–93; Columbia University, New York, NY, associate professor, 1993; Brown University, Providence, RI, professor of English and director of creative writing, 1995–. Has worked as a waitress, an artist's model, and a fencing instructor.
AWARDS, HONORS: CAPS grant for fiction, New York State Council on the Arts, 1983; W.K. Rose fellowship in the creative arts, Vassar College, 1985; New York Foundation for the Arts grant, 1987; National Endowment for the Arts literature grant, 1988; Lannan Literary fellowship for fiction, Lannan Foundation, 1993.
Ghost Dance, Perennial Library (New York, NY), 1987.
The Art Lover, North Point Press (San Francisco, CA), 1990.
Ava, Dalkey Archive Press (Normal, IL), 1993.
The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, Dalkey Archive (Normal, IL), 1994.
Defiance, Dutton (New York, NY), 1998.
Aureole: An Erotic Sequence (short stories) Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1996.
Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing, and Moments of Desire, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2000.
The Room Lit by Roses: A Journal of Pregnancy and Birth (memoir), Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2000.
Beauty Is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo (prose and poetry), Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2001.
Also author of screenplay Pandora's Box, 1993. Contributor to anthologies, including Tasting Life Twice: Literary Lesbian Fiction by New American Writers, edited by E.J. Levy, Avon Books (New York, NY), 1995; and Tolstoy's Dictaphone: Technology and the Muse, edited by Sven Birkerts, Graywolf Press (St. Paul, MN), 1996. Contributor periodicals, including American Periodical Review, Common Knowledge, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Bomb, Nerve, and Conjunctions.
SIDELIGHTS: Carole Maso is a professor of English and author whose first novel, Ghost Dance, is the story of a family's disintegration and an exploration of loss. "Carole writes beautifully, with a depth of imagination and fine descriptive power—but plot, continuity, and climax generally conceded to a novel are most difficult to pull from the thick cloudy contest of ephemeral memories," stated Alicia Dulac in Best Sellers. A critic in Publishers Weekly commented: "Comparable more to musical than to literary forms, this first novel resembles a tone poem."
The novel is not organized into chapters but rather into five parts that are further divided. "Ghost Dance's unconventional structure is not a pretentious, arty overlay," claimed Leslie Lawrence in Sojourner. "The structure is born of necessity; the story could be told no other way. This is not a novel about character development or about how one event leads to another. It is a novel that succeeds in conveying the enormity and fertility of one woman's mind." Library Journal reviewer Jeanne Buckley called Maso's prose "repetitious and dreamlike, and her poetic images are sharp and evocative." A critic in Kirkus Reviews felt that Vanessa tells the story "in an emotion-charged and montage-like narrative that roams freely from deep in the past right up to the present."
The narrator of Ghost Dance is Vanessa Turin, daughter of the distinguished, beautiful, and mad poet Christine Wing. Vanessa's father is a quiet man, devoted to his wife. Fletcher, Vanessa's brother, is an activist, and her grandfather travels west to learn from the Native Americans. "The children observe marriages of opposites, parents and grandparents," explained E.M. Broner in the Women's Review of Books. "Their father is silent, their mother's life and living are words. Their Italian grandmother is practical; her husband is a visionary, a moralist…. The children are the heirs of these symbiotic traits. Vanessa, the eldest, inherits her mother's physical form, and, like the mother, writes. Fletcher, the brother, a year younger, speaks out for the silent things that have no speech themselves, flora, fauna, the environment." As the novel progresses, Vanessa loses her mother to an automobile accident and her father when he departs on an unannounced pilgrimage. Fletcher journeys to remote places and sends Vanessa postcards with muddled messages.
Ron Burnett remarked in the Christian Science Monitor that Ghost Dance is not so much a story as it is "a mode of recall by a narrator who really isn't telling a story at all but trying to build a rationale for her own existence." Vanessa becomes addicted to cocaine and then heroin. She has an affair with her mother's female lover of over two decades. The sections of the book are connected by imagery. "Snow, for example, is at once cocaine, the asbestos in a worker's lungs, and the setting for the massacre of Native Americans at Wounded Knee," observed Meredith Sue Willis in the New York Times Book Review. Cyra McFadden, in her assessment for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, characterized the language of the novel as "dense" and "lyrical" and contended that Maso "takes enormous risks, juggling level upon level of metaphor…. The book's strengths are greater than its flaws, however, and the flaws are honorable, born of ambition and abundant talent. I can't remember a more striking depiction of madness, or the labyrinth of family ties." Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson called Ghost Dance a "stunning debut."
Maso's second novel, The Art Lover, is dedicated to Gary Falk, a friend of hers who died of AIDS. Linda L. Rome, writing in the Library Journal, said that the "nontraditional novel presents an experimental face to the reader." The main character, Caroline, is a poet and writer who returns to New York from an artists' colony to settle the estate of her father, an art historian who had told her that art is everything. She accepts his belief but feels that her mother's suicide may have been linked to her father's philosophy. As Caroline's childhood friend is dying of AIDS, "Caroline begins to feel that retreating into art may in fact be nothing but an exquisite form of betrayal," explained William Ferguson in the New York Times Book Review. At one point, Caroline is replaced by Maso's persona, describing her work on the novel as her own friend is dying. Photographs of art, reviews, start charts, poems, and newspaper clippings are scattered throughout the story, "often as ironic counterpoint," said Ferguson. He maintained that although the book contains many "imaginative levels," The Art Lover "is fully coherent, moving and elegiac, a genuine consolation."
The Art Lover "is more a deconstructionist art gallery of the author's sensibility than a conventional novel," wrote Carol Muske Dukes in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "These 'pieces' form a puzzle, an album of memories, though the style is in no way retrospective; it is as contemporary and self-conscious as a style can get in our post-structuralist age." Dukes characterized the images as "sensual, obsessed—with long passages of intoxicating beauty…. Maso has found an innovative way to see, like a laser, into the human heart." A reviewer in Publishers Weekly pointed out that Maso "brings to life a 'bombardment of images and sounds,' fashioning a pattern of astonishing complexity and beauty."
A critic for Publishers Weekly compared Maso's third novel, Ava, to James Joyce's Ulysses in that the protagonist, Ava Klein, recalls her past on the last day of her life as she dies from a rare cancer of the blood. The reviewer contended that Ava "presents heartbreakingly familiar emotions in an utterly original form." L. Winters suggested in Choice that Ava is "mysterious and richly allusive…. Maso contributes new insights into women's inner life."
In the novel, Ava is a thirty-nine-year-old professor of literature at Hunter College who reflects upon her marriages to an Italian film director, a French pilot, and a Latin American. Her current partner is a Czech writer. Wendy Smith observed in the New York Times Book Review that references to Ava's literary mentors (such as Nabokov and Neruda) "signal that this novel's goals are modernist: to stimulate new kinds of thinking through new kinds of writing, to refract reality through the prism of an individual consciousness rather than mimicking it with an omniscient, third-person narration." Smith noted Ava's memories of New York as it had been and said that "her memories of vanished amenities are not just sentimental expressions of the typical complaint … but mirror Ava's sense of her own vital forces ebbing away…. Although Ava's memories come to her on the eve of death, they all celebrate life." "Maso has written another spellbinder in this current novel," commented Cherry W. Li in the Library Journal.
The title of Maso's fourth novel, The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, refers to the central character, Catherine, a young American writer traveling on a grant whose female lover decides not to join her on the French Riviera. Rejected, Catherine writes and cries in cafes and engages in sexual adventures with a variety of men, including a seventeen-year-old artist's model. "This book may shock the genteel reader, but others will be enthralled," observed Jim Dwyer in the Library Journal. "Language is the shape of her pain and her desire: she continually inscribes her life …, reinventing herself in the pages of her notebook," contended a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. Tom Sleigh maintained in the New York Times Book Review that "Ms. Maso seems to identify passionately with her narrator's plight, but as the novel cycles through pickups and love affairs, devolving eventually into Catherine's madness, the relationship between the wily Ms. Maso and her first-person narrator grows steadily more complex … forcing us to assess and reassess not only our attitudes toward Catherine but Ms. Maso's own attitude toward her narrator." Sleigh noted Maso's "sophisticated use of verbal collage" and movement "from internal monologue to fragmentary perception" and praised her "rigorous associative logic"; she added that "there is nothing slack or frenzied about Ms. Maso's writing: despite the overheated plot and setting, the depiction of Catherine's suffering is provocatively cool."
A Publishers Weekly reviewer called Maso's fifth book, Aureole: An Erotic Sequence, "a lesbian erotic fantasia so drunk with language games, impressionistic imagery and self-referential play as to be almost plotless." The book is composed of poetry and vignettes in mainly French settings, often on the beach, and sometimes involving food. Barbara Hoffert maintained in Library Journal that Maso has entered "rarefied territory" in this "extended prose poem … with only a hint of character and plot to guide the reader."
"For Maso, Defiance is definitely a new thing," remarked Matthew Debord in Publishers Weekly; he concluded that Maso's sixth novel "employs a recognizable structure and manages to live up to its billing as a thriller by suspensefully manipulating a reader's expectations until its brutal, macabre conclusion." Defiance's protagonist, Bernadette O'Brien, is a former Harvard physics professor awaiting execution on death row in a Georgia prison for the murder of two of her male students. Bernadette keeps a journal, which Elizabeth Bukowski described in the Wall Street Journal as "a dizzying swirl of memories and mathematics, black humor and hallucinatory voices." Bukowski called Defiance "a sharp exploration of new extremes of cynicism and darkness." Bernadette had been a child prodigy in a working-class Irish family; she had been mistreated and had witnessed her father's abuse of her mother and his infidelities. She does not see herself as a victim and rejects the social workers and feminists who urge her to plead mental illness to win a stay of execution. Library Journal contributor Faye A. Chadwell considered Maso's "unsympathetic, explicit" treatment of her central character's dark side "the novel's greatest strength."
In addition to novels, Maso has also written books in other genres, including literary criticism, memoir, and poetic works. Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing, and Moments of Desire, for example, consists of ten individual works in which the author critiques the creative process and encourages pushing the boundaries of literary conventions, language, and genre. A Publishers Weekly critic noted: "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."
In 2001, Maso chronicled her quest to have a child, her pregnancy, and the birth of her daughter, Rose, in The Room Lit by Roses: A Journal of Pregnancy and Birth. "The Room Lit by Roses," wrote Sonja Franeta in Gay & Lesbian Review, "is not like any book you've read. The gentle incantations and rhythms of her prose are a banquet of sound and meaning." Written in diary form, the text takes a sometimes poetic style and tone while describing the effect her pregnancy and the events surrounding it had on her life and body. A critic for Publishers Weekly felt that "her dreamlike treatment of pregnancy, birth, mothering and writing should enchant mothers, mothers-to-be and writers with a poetic bent."
In Beauty Is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo Maso combines prose and poetry to imaginatively describe painful events in the life of Kahlo, the famous Mexican painter. She draws on firsthand sources, including Kahlo's diary and related letters, as well as biographies about Kahlo, to construct the images of the artist. In a writing style that a reviewer for Publishers Weekly described as "impressionistic," Maso relates how the bus accident that impaled Kahlo affected her life, including the many years of agonizing treatments, subsequent related injuries, failure to carry a child to term, and her paintings. The reviewer noted that "despite the grim goings-on, Maso, like her subject, is not without a sense of humor … which helps her to capture" the absurdity of the situation.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 44, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987, pp. 57-61.
Contemporary Novelists, seventh edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
Maso, Carole, The Room Lit by Roses: A Journal of Pregnancy and Birth, Counterpoint (Washington, DC), 2000.
Best Sellers, September, 1986, Alicia Dulac, review of Ghost Dance, p. 204.
Booklist, May 1, 1986, Joanne Wilkinson, review of Ghost Dance, p. 1283.
Choice, September, 1993, L. Winters, review of Ava, p. 121.
Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 1986, Ron Burnett, review of Ghost Dance, p. 22.
Gay & Lesbian Review, March, 2001, Sonja Franeta, "The Mother of the Woman," review of The Room Lit by Roses, p. 121.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 1986, review of Ghost Dance, p. 572; March 1, 1994, review of The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, pp. 237-38; August 15, 1996, review of Aureole: An Erotic Sequence, p. 1179.
Library Journal, July, 1986, Jeanne Buckley, review of Ghost Dance, p. 110; May 15, 1990, Linda L. Rome, review of The Art Lover, p. 95; April 1, 1993, Cherry W. Li, review of Ava, p. 132; February 1, 1994, Jim Dwyer, review of The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, p. 113; November 1, 1996, Barbara Hoffert, review of Aureole: An Erotic Sequence, p. 108; April 1, 1998, Faye A. Chadwell, review of Defiance, p. 124.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, July 27, 1986, Cyra McFadden, review of Ghost Dance, p. 3; July 1, 1990, Carol Muske Dukes, review of The Art Lover, p. 2.
New York Times Book Review, July 20, 1986, Meredith Sue Willis, review of Ghost Dance, p. 18; June 24, 1990, William Ferguson, review of The Art Lover, p. I20; December 12, 1993, Wendy Smith, review of Ava, p. 23; May 15, 1994, Tom Sleigh, review of The American Women in the Chinese Hat, p. 31.
Publishers Weekly, April, 25, 1986, review of Ghost Dance, p. 66; March 23, 1990, review of The Art Lover, p. 64; March 15, 1993, review of Ava, p. 67; March 28, 1994, The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, pp. 83-84; September 30, 1996, review of Aureole: An Erotic Sequence, p. 63; April 27, 1998, Matthew Debord, "Carole Maso: From Margins to Center," interview with Carole Maso, pp. 38-39; May 1, 2000, review of Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing, and Moments of Desire, p. 65; November 27, 2000, review of The Room Lit by Roses, p. 67; November 25, 2002, review of Beauty Is Convulsive, p. 42.
Sojourner, December, 1986, Leslie Lawrence, review of Ghost Dance, pp. 38-39.
Wall Street Journal, April 24, 1998, Elizabeth Bukowski, review of Defiance, p. W4.
Women's Review of Books, September, 1986, E.M. Broner, review of Ghost Dance, p. 13.
Absolute Write, http://www.absolutewrite.com/ (October 7, 2005), interview with Carole Maso.
Barcelona Review Online, http://www.barcelonareview.com/ (April 17, 2003), Jill Adams, interview with Carole Maso.