The American Woman in the Chinese Hat Summary

Carole Maso

The American Woman in the Chinese Hat

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The year is 1988, and Catherine, thirty-three, is spending the summer in Vence on La Cote D’Azur, where she is “known as the American woman in the Chinese hat who writes.” According to Lulu, her lover of ten years, she is “running away from the real world.” Catherine, however, believes that Lulu has misunderstood her, most in mistaking Catherine’s “volatile and violent nature...for genius.” In her notebook, she recalls Lulu and others from her past, composes part of what amounts to a doubly, and doubly ambiguous, autobiographical novel (a “love story”), and records the events of her present life, the people she meets and either seduces or is seduced by, and the places she visits (for example, Van Gogh’s Arles, Renoir’s Haut-de-Cagnes). Here, even more than in her three earlier novels, Maso offers up a dazzling array of intertextual references, everything from Scheherazade, Homer’s Penelope, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to Samuel Beckett’s COMPANY and WAITING FOR GODOT and, perhaps most intriguingly, Renata Adler’s PITCH DARK. As its title suggests, this is a decidedly hybrid work, among other things, a lesbian version of Thomas Mann’s DEATH IN VENICE (here Vence, where D. H. Lawrence died) with an ending drawn as much from Kate Chopin’s THE AWAKENING and Bertolucci’s THE LAST EMPEROR as from Mann’s novella.

Functional rather than merely decorative, the allusions play a dual role in that they exist as both a vital...

(The entire section is 408 words.)