16 April 2005

Carole Maso

Months ago my friend Bev loaned me a novel called Defiance by Carole Maso, in which Bernadette, a Harvard professor, is three months from being electrocuted by the state of Georgia for murdering two of her male students. The text is her Death diary. She is not repentent. She intended her crimes, but they did not succeed at annulling her losses. She dies enraptured by the grief of her childhood.

There is no way, I suppose you know, to atone for the theft of childhood.

That is her theme, and here is a writing sample:

The dream is green and I am fetus clinging. Clinging to your emerald bones in that time, that time before . . . Clovered to you. The last free place. Verdant, rich. The shining pelvis bone to which I clung. I flare at your waist. Unwilling to live outside. My first bit of real intelligence. A forcepped birth. In the year of our weariness, 1960. Taking the tongs. Traumatically. How the scene now stubbornly asserts itself again and again. Extracted. The patient etherized. Mother.

Before I disappoint you or let you down. Before you disappoint or let me down. Before you disappoint or let me down. Before numbers or stars, before language, before notions of beginnings or endings. Before a hand was raised. Before a hand existed at all. Before the brain. Sensing the body forming, quickly and slowly. There are miracles. Here come the fingers. Small toes. Frog heart. Amphibious in the watery dark. In the time before the world had anything against us yet. In the time of reprieve—suspended, lingering. Last forever. Never end.

The novel is brutal, mesmerizing, and superb. Maso fractures the storytelling into thousands of small pieces and completes the story of the deepest hurt only moments before the protagonist's execution. The reader has understood for a long time what happened, and therefore the final details only tattoo the truth.

I've already ordered another of her books, and I can imagine reading everything she's written. She teaches at Brown.


  1. It sounds wonderful and gripping.

  2. Maso is in a class by herself. I find her and Jim Crace (for very, very different reasons) two of the most interesting writers around.

  3. it's a wonderful book but hard for many people but I love it.

  4. hi carol! how's gerald? I've heard so much about Maso. Maybe I'll give her a try. The subject matter intrigues, though I'm not a huge fan of the deliberately obscure style. I find it self conscious. But I can't judge Maso without reading her! What you've posted is terribly evocative.

    i never have time to read blogs. I feel so remiss and am trying to make up for it while substitute teaching! ;-)