(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In advising his dying father, “Do not go gentle into that goodnight,” Dylan Thomas struck a characteristically male note oftestosterone-charged combativeness. In writing of thirty-nineyear-old Ava Klein, professor of comparative literature and “rarebird” (rara avum) dying of an equally rare blood cancer on the veryday that George Bush drew his “line in the sand” in the PersianGulf, Carole Maso takes a different, more feminist approach, not araging against but a calling forth. Except in its overallstructure (Morning, Afternoon, Evening), AVA is almost entirelyfree of linear plot and the other trappings of conventional (male)narrative (especially the individual, self-assertive ego). Ava’s “Tenuous, fragmented thoughts,” her memories of husbands, lovers,friends, students, and places, and of her polymorphous cultural andintellectual interests, including her “passionate and promiscuousreading,” follow no discernible order and are usually offered up invariously voiced bytes of one or two lines followed by a generousamount of blank space. For so innovative a novel, AVA proveswonderfully readable: unconventional yet accessible, as sensuous asit is cerebral, appealing, even inviting, allusive but never aloof,at times unbearably sad.

Ava’s love song is marked by none of the hesitancy thatcharacterizes J. Alfred Prufrock’s, and none of Harold Bloom’sanxiety of influence either. Her memories multiply like somebenign version of her cancer. Whereas the latter kills, Ava’snarrative saves what otherwise would be forgotten. Proceedingcumulatively and communally (“Don’t leave anything out”), the novelincludes the reader, another of Ava’s lovers. “But what rule ofbeauty is there at work?” No single rule governs AVA (or Ava forthat matter), a text teasingly rich with its own interpretivepossibilities, for if Ava is Scheherezade, she is also Proust, andher text an ARABIAN NIGHTS ENTERTAINMENT, REMEMBRANCE OF THINGSPAST, Mozart’s MAGIC FLUTE, Schubert’s unfinished symphony,montage, collage, Joseph Cornell-like box into which she puts “infinity,” a Velvet Revolution peacefully casting off alltotalitarian systems (political, sexual, narrative, interpretive)in order to create a “liberated form of discourse” that “heals asmuch as it separates.” Looking back on her life, Ava claims tohave been “extraordinarily lucky,” but the reader is even luckierthat Carole Maso has written and Dalkey Archive has published anovel this generous, this rare and “ravishing.”