cover image The American Woman in the Chinese Hat

The American Woman in the Chinese Hat

Carole Maso. Dalkey Archive Press, $19.95 (201pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-045-4

Catherine, 33, beautiful and vibrant, bisexual (though preferring women) and passionately driven as a writer, drifts through the bars and bedrooms of Vence on the French Riviera seeking sexual partners. Maso's ( Ghost Dance ) enchanting fourth novel unfolds in a fragmented, poetic prose that is exciting, delicious and lucid. Jilted by Lola, her American lover, Catherine tries to quell her emotional turmoil with a chain of lovers, finally connecting with Lucien, a sweet longhaired youth she picks up at the village fountain. Under the glaring Cote d'Azur sun, Catherine feels herself ignited by a manic misery she compulsively funnels into her writing. Language is the shape of her pain and her desire: she continually inscribes her life as she experiences it, reinventing herself in the pages of her notebook. Maso remains in control of her preoccupation with the writerly act, e.g., splitting Catherine's identity into third- and first-person narratives, maintaining one voice that is mischievously aloof. Paradoxically, the author presents the novel as a finished artifact, yet creates an illusion of improvisation as Catherine suffers and scribbles. The fountain forms a recurrent motif, along with images of birds and radiant light, until the novel's striking finale. (May)