Whereas the first chapter of Carole Maso’s Break Every Rule (I wrote about it HERE) is a kind of travelogue where cities or towns in Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts, as well as in France, inspire reveries on home and language, the second chapter unfolds much differently. “Notes of a Lyric Artist Working in Prose: a Lifelong Conversation with Myself Entered Midway” is a series of brilliant, and sometimes enigmatic, epigrams on writing, on lyric poetry, on the novel. These are luscious morsels that can be cherry-picked at random. At one point, she writes:
Language engenders language. Language itself presents unexpected and often extraordinary solutions. It leads you to the what next? To the how and why. To the what if, and if only.
Interspersing quotes from Jean Luc Godard, Andrey Tarkovsky, and Virginia Woolf, Maso reflects on writing her novels AVA and The American Woman in the Chinese Hat. She likens the latter to Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, because “both, as lyric novels, move image by image toward intensity. Images follow a progress through interplays and modulation until they reach a level of nearly unbearable intensity. Action is a concern, but a secondary one.” While Maso’s thoughts on her novels are intriguing in their own right, it is her expansive reflections on the lyric novel in particular that’s most interesting to me:
“The novel’s capacity for failure. It’s promiscuity, its verve. Always trying to attain the unattainable. Container of the uncontainable. Weird, gorgeous vessel. Voluptuous vessel.
“The novel as a kind of eternity. A kind of infinity. Inevitable progressions of beauty—with room and time enough for all.”
“The novel might be musically or visually conceived—pictorial relationships, symphonic turns rendered in prose.”
“The novel as a geometry of desire.”
“The novel is all potential. All what might be. All what might have been. A record of all we cannot remember, all we’ve lost—never to be retrieved.”
While I certainly disagree with Maso that James Joyce, because he never goes “beyond the self,” “fails finally to be a great novelist,” I find a lot of inspiring thoughts in this chapter.
So what is the novel to you, for you?
John Madera is the author of Nervosities (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2024). His other fiction is published in Conjunctions, Salt Hill, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His nonfiction is published in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, New York State Council on the Arts awardee John Madera lives in New York City, Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.