BEAUTY IS CONVULSIVE: The Passion of Frida Kahlo

Carole Maso, Author . Counterpoint $24 (192p) ISBN 978-1-58243-089-8

This impressionistic book recaps some of the more infamous events of the Mexican artist's life. Maso (The Art Lover; Aureole) relies on Kahlo's diary, as well as on letters, medical reports and Hayden Herrera's biography, Frida, and focuses primarily on the mental and physical torment the painter suffered after being maimed in a trolley accident when she was 19. For years after the accident, Kahlo's doctors prescribed a series of almost medieval corsets and a constant flow of painkillers; she also suffered miscarriages and eventually lost a leg to gangrene. Somewhat fewer pages are devoted to her painting and her relationship with Diego Rivera, although both are duly noted. Maso renders all this in an experimental hybrid of prose and poetry; nonlinearity, repetition, multiple voices and fragmentation dominate, and she shows little regard for punctuation. Some readers will inevitably find this distracting, but it feels appropriate to the jagged world of pain, deformity and drug addiction in which Kahlo spent more than half her life. Fortunately, despite the grim goings-on, Maso, like her subject, is not without a sense of humor (she slyly notes the commercialization and fetishizing of all things Frida and tosses quotes from Kahlo's detractors, as well as her own critics, into the mix), which helps her to capture the "absurdity of the maimed and desperately decorated." (Dec.)

Forecast:There's been more than enough written on Kahlo to fill bookstore display tables. This may not be the first title readers turn to after seeing the Julie Taymor–directed film Frida, but it may be one of the best.

Reviewed on: 11/25/2002
Release date: 10/01/2002
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