Ava by Carole Maso

It's hard to exactly classify Carole Maso's Ava.  Calling it "prose-poetry" pigeonhole's it unnecessarily and perhaps makes it sound more difficult than it actually is.  But labeling it "avant-garde" or "experimental," appropriate descriptions each, might make it seem rather preciously pretentious, a book for hoity-toity muckety-mucks to show off how artsy-fartsy they are, which would be a damn shame, since the book, despite its unorthodox styling and unique narrative voice, is eminently accessible, readable, no matter its multilayered cinematic, classical musical, philosophical, and effusive literary allusions -- professorial, that is, and no surprise, since Ava's a comparative lit. professor  -- foundations.  I found it trance-inducing.  And I loved its seamless poetics.

The rhythm of her fiction, the cadence of her diction, mesmerizes.  One does indeed become entranced with even as little as a glance at her unique novel -- and let's call it that if we must call it anything, a "unique novel" -- a book that begins creeping up on you as you read it (if you let it drizzle in during long silent sittings and musings with it), flooring you (and never boring) with its terse visions and invocations of ... life ... loss  ... longing ... love ... art ... looming death ...

Brief description from the jacket blurb sums the plot up best:

"Ava Klein, thirty-nine, lover of life, world traveler, professor of comparative literature, is dying.  From her hospital bed on this, her last day on earth, she makes one final ecstatic voyage.

"People, places, offhand memories, and imaginary things drift in and out of Ava's consciousness and weave their way through the narrative.  The voices of her three former husbands. . .

"The voices of her literary lovers as well are woven into the narrative: Woolf, Eliot, Nabokov, Beckett, Sarraute, Lorca, Frisch, among others.  These writers comment on and help guide us through the text. . ."

Below is an excerpt from Ava.  And note the double-spacing is also Maso's; the spacing adding that extra dimensionality of empty-space effect, mirroring on the page Ava Klein's disjointed, and perhaps medicated, free-associative remembrances:

"I might turn the corner and there will be Cha-Cha Fernandez walking his Doberman pinscher.

"Or Carlos and Ana Julia in a boat.

"And there's Danilo, feeling mortal again, slipping his hand under my hospital gown to touch my breast.

"I remember the way she covered her mouth with her hand.  Seventy now.  Beautiful, flirtatious, when I bring up his name -- like a young girl.


"Matisse gazing at her living flesh as I gaze now. . .

"Delphine, who once modeled for Matisse, now a sculptor in her own right.

"Maria Regina slicing a peach in the white kitchen.

"Preparing the meat for braciole.  Laying the pasta for ravioli to dry on the bed."

[Pardon the interruption, and perhaps my stating the pointedly obvious: but note the subtle way, with the near internal rhymes of "peach" and "meat" and "braciole" with "ravioli" in the preceding two lines, how Maso ever so subtly (poetically) free associates, connects, her fragile strands of experience.  The novel is replete with that type of artful association.]

"In the country she made proscuitto.  Cured olives.

"All that was delirious and perfect.  And how swept up in it all we were, Francesco: the films and choosing the music -- Khachaturian's Masquerade.

"The books read out loud to one another in our first languages.

"Pavese, Calvino, Canetti.  Read them again, Francesco."

I could go on with the excerpt, quote the entire novel quite easily, it's all that good; but ... hopefully, that smidgen provides a good vibe, good feel for what I was attempting to describe and what you'll experience reading this evocative novel.  The closest approximation to Ava, in terms of its narrative construct, that I've encountered, would be David Markson's, Wittgenstein's Mistress, a novel that also employs short, blunt declarations rarely exceeding three sentences, made by an unreliable narrator, to haunting, and foreshadowing, effect.

Carole Maso's Ava, a novel that's felt as much as it's read.  In fact, facing death never felt so, oddly ... good.