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Carole Maso

Carole Maso is the author of Ghost Dance, The Art Lover,AVA, The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, Aureole,Defiance, Break Every Rule: Essays on Language, Longing, and Moments of Desire, and A Room Lit By Roses: A Journal of Pregnancy and Birth.


"Lovely . . . the product of a rigorous and imaginative formal intelligence."

– Voice Literary Supplement

"Richly textured. . . . Maso has written another spellbinder."

– Library Journal

"Presents heartbreakingly familiar emotions in an utterly original form."

– Publishers Weekly

"Give Carole Maso and her publisher an A for audacity. . . . [AVA] reads like poetry."

– Los Angeles Times Book Review

"What [Virginia Woolf] did for the prose rhythm of the paragraph, Maso has done for the sentence. . . [AVA] is to be read slowly, with great pleasure."

– Chicago Tribune

"Maso's third novel is a moving, symphonic testimony to the meanings that memory, desire, and life acumulate. . . . An erotic and moving book, AVA reconfirms Maso's reputation as one of our most refined and daring novelists."

– Booklist



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If the elements of this story were egg whites, Maso would have whisked them into stiff, firm peaks.


Although we tend to think of it as such, reading isn’t a singular action. It’s a collection of actions that result in having read something. When we read, we do a lot of things very quickly. We -- to name a few things -- guess, contextualize, interpret, critique, remember. We do a lot, and those who can accomplish these tasks simultaneously and quickly are called "good readers." Those who don’t do these things well can train their minds to do them better. But wherever we fall on the spectrum of readers, we can all agree that AVA by Carole Maso is the perfect book to remind us that some books are meant to be slow, that sometimes we need to stop and think about all those things that we do when we read -- and do them deliberately.

AVA's simple plot is the recounting of Ava Klein’s last day alive. Among memories of friendships, moments of critical theory, short good-byes, and sex, Klein lies in a colorless hospital room, dying. Bouncing back and forth from youthful indiscretions to her present, pragmatic end, the book takes us polyphoniously through Ava’s life, even saving a little time for her hopes for a future in which she won’t be here. Humor sits comfortably next to tragedy, next to snobbery, next to bawdiness, and although it might not be interesting to point out that the plot mixes high, low, and everything in between, because a lot of books mix those elements seamlessly, none that I know mix them so quickly and in so few words. If the elements of this story were egg whites, Maso would have whisked them into stiff, firm peaks.

And those peaks would be sentences. The book is structured as a collection of loosely connected, nonlinear sentences. If there is a narrative arc -- and I choose to revel in the lack of one -- it is subtle. The first sentence is as important as the seventy-sixth, which is as important as the last. The evenly distributed weight of each sentence creates this wonderful gravity toward reading for reading’s sake. If you read AVA and randomly eliminate five pages, you won’t miss anything ‘important’ about the book; you’ll still get the same ending, the same feelings, and you’ll know Ava. But what you will miss is the joy of reading those pages. Those pages matter because they are written, and they are good. They justify themselves.

To me these sentences were good from the start, but around page one hundred, I started questioning myself a little. Am I reading this right? How should I be taking this in? I suppose this is the reader’s equivalent to, "How does my butt look in these jeans?" But Maso is a kind guide, and like William Carlos Williams with regard to his masterpiece, Spring and All, she leaves hints of a rubric for analyzing not only her work, but Experimental Literature in general. A few examples: 

Words are less integers than points in a continuum. Indeed one might well describe the structure of the lyrics as the expression of the interval (40).

. . . Form and content constantly shape each other like the elements of the ecosystem and this allows truth,infinite possibilities for expression (90).

You will have literary texts that tolerate all kinds of freedom—Unlike the more Classical texts—which are not texts that delimit themselves, are not texts of territory with neat borders, with chapters, beginnings, endings, etc., and which will be a little disquieting because you do not feel the


The edge (113).

A common critique of what’s named Experimental, Avant Garde, Modernist, Postmodern, etc. is that the heavy focus on the structure takes away from the soul of what’s written. It’s a common critique because it contains some truth. Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy is brilliant and Ulysses may be the crowning achievement of 20th century literature, but they’re cold. They aren’t necessary, they’re just genius. Carole Maso’s unparalleled novel AVA stands out in this balancing act of soul versus structure because the book is accessible, universal, funny, poignant, and above all soulful. And all the things I love about the possibility of books live in this novel.

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  1. Jordan Blum said on 10/24/11 at 11:50 am Reply

    Firstly, I love the title of this post. Plain and simple. Secondly, I can definitely relate to your analysis of the process of reading; we “do a lot of things very quickly. We — to name a few things — guess, contextualize, interpret, critique, remember. We do a lot, and those who can accomplish these tasks simultaneously and quickly are called ‘good readers.’ Those who don’t do these things well can train their minds to do them better.” At least, I think of myself as doing all of this properly, and it’s quite interesting to teach a college course in which my entire job is to help freshmen who CAN’T do this (or don’t want to). I’m trying to “train their minds to do them better.”

    Anyway, before I even finished your post, your description of the structure of the book (nonlinear sentences) made me think of “Ulysses” (which, I must admit, I couldn’t read for more than 30 seconds before feeling annoyed). I appreciate you separating this book from that (preemptively assuming some of our hesitation, I suppose) by saying how AVA is funny, poignant, accessible, etc.

    Excellent post, overall.


  2. brian warfield said on 11/07/11 at 11:27 am Reply

    I’ve just started reading this book, and what comes immediately to mind, for some reason, is Michelangelo Antonioni movies. Do you know what I mean? At the moment it is just an association that spirngs to mind, but as I read, I may develop a more thorough understanding of what I mean by that.


    Brian Contine said on 11/07/11 at 12:07 pm

    I can see the connection. But I’ve always felt that Antonioni’s films create an apparently disconnected world that shows itself to actually be very connected, while “Ava” shows a singular universe that contains incredible multitudes. These are broad strokes, I know, but I think this opposition makes Antonioni and Maso’s “Ava” incredibly fun to talk about together. I’d love to hear about what you think the further you get into the book. Let me know.

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