Aureole: An Erotic Sequence


Two women leaf through a book of French slang, with its delicate and delicious mixing of food and sex. A man and a woman sit in a Parisian dive, caressing each other’s hands. Two lovers take late-night refuge in a beach cabana, their lovemaking lit by the lights of his automobile. These are glimpses of some of the haunting scenes and characters that people this sometimes wild, sometimes elusive exploration of desire’s magical and subversive qualities.

"Carole Maso is that rare creature—an original! Her voice and ...

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Two women leaf through a book of French slang, with its delicate and delicious mixing of food and sex. A man and a woman sit in a Parisian dive, caressing each other’s hands. Two lovers take late-night refuge in a beach cabana, their lovemaking lit by the lights of his automobile. These are glimpses of some of the haunting scenes and characters that people this sometimes wild, sometimes elusive exploration of desire’s magical and subversive qualities.

"Carole Maso is that rare creature—an original! Her voice and vision are like no one else’s."—Edmund White

Carole Maso is the author of Ghost Dance, The Art Lover, Defiance, and other novels. She has received many awards, most recently the Lannan Literary Fellowship for fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Showing affinities with Jeanette Winterson, whose last novel (Art and Lies) was also her most experimental, Maso's fifth book (after The American Woman in the Chinese Hat) is a lesbian, erotic fantasia so drunk with language games, impressionistic imagery and self-referential play as to be almost plotless. "I want you in the liminal stage. In the in between place," announces one woman to her lover as they lie in bed in a Paris apartment in the first chapter, evoking the themes of desire and liminality that unite the chapters that follow. Blending fiction and verse, often set on the threshold of desire and its consummation, narrated in a trance-like voice marked by ellipses and kaleidoscopic imagery of oceanic objects, fruit and sexual couplings, each chapter showcases a different lesbian, bisexual or onanistic fantasy. "Make Me Dazzle" details the lusty romance of a female professor and a muscular woman athlete who meet at a seaside town in winter; "Dreaming Steven Lighthouse Keeper" depicts the sticky daydreams of a disconsolate man tending a lighthouse; in "Exquisite Hour," a woman injecting heroin watches her life flash past in a snow-shrouded haze. Maso's freewheeling prose-poetry and bawdy cataloguing technique suggest a lesbian updating of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." Yet her best linesthose that manage to make language itself corporeal, performative and sexyare submerged in a stream of arch non sequiturs: "Let us wash together our rosy lentils. In the dusk. In the dark. We'll live on oysters there, and sea snails." In some readers this book will evoke the erotic, free-associative thought that occurs as one drifts off to sleepin others it will induce it firsthand. (Oct.)
Library Journal
The author of such offbeat titles as The American Woman in the Chinese Hat here enters rarefied territory, and some readers won't be able to follow. Categorized as a novel, this book is in fact an extended prose poem on eroticism, with only the hint of character and plot to guide the reader. Two women make love in Paris, and when the curious (male) lover of one asks for an accounting, he hears a list of lovers reeled off alphabetically. An encounter on a beach, the life of a lonely lighthouse keeper-all emerge from the prose, scattered like petals in single-sentence fragments across the page: "When her lips devour the pulsing oysters of the woman, they read from The Book of Dreams"; "Women are so beautiful in their curiosity"; "It is the madness then, the extravagance of roses opening in December"; "and your breats-cup of milk cup of mysterious universe." Some readers will find writing like this stirringly poetic; others will choke on the overripeness. For ambitious collections only.-Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
An astonishingly vapid pornographic fantasy, from the Brown/Columbia professor whose previous labors in this vineyard (The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, 1994, etc.) have been praised by some as masterly.

Maso does not so much write books as collate fragments. Like The American Woman, this is a collection of poetic riffs and very short vignettes drawn together by voice rather than narrative, thus lacking a strongly sustained unifying element. Such stories as emerge are imagistic, slight, and entirely hermetic: "The Women Wash Lentils" portrays two women discussing food in bed, whereas "Exquisite Hour" and "The Changing Room" are straightforward recollections of sexual encounters. Erotic fiction, as a rule, is a train that can't carry much literary freight without getting bogged down in pretension, and here the game is given away in the very first line ("When they are French, which they often are, especially in bed they say derangement"). The exotic settings (usually French), the epicurean obsession with food (usually oysters), and the kinky sex (usually on a beach) are pornographic clichés along the lines of stiletto heels or fishnet stockings, and little is added to them by Maso's rambling meditative digressions ("You're in love with the crazy white-haired girl. She's sewing poems into her sleeve, they read: `dreamy lighthouse keeper mild Steven' "). Although the poetic sequences contain striking passages and vivid images, they can't convey a story in any recognizable sense, running the high risk of rapidly coming to seem pointless. Unfortunately, they form almost the whole of the book.

In all, turgid and pompous.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780872864108
  • Publisher: City Lights Books
  • Publication date: 1/1/2003
  • Pages: 136
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.30 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface IX
The Women Wash Lentils 1
Her Ink-Stained Hands 27
Make Me Dazzle 37
Dreaming Steven Lighthouse Keeper 71
The Changing Room 85
Anju Flying Streamers After 87
[Untitled] 143
The Devotions 145
As We Form Our First Words 151
Sappho Sings The World Ecstatic 157
You Were Dazzle 169
Exquisite Hour 179
In the Last Village 201
Notes 213
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2003

    Dangerous Territory

    It is always, for me, the negatively critical reviews that get me to ruminating on the deeper issues involved in a book. Rather than turning me away, they spark my interest further. To see someone so adamantly against something only shows me that the work could possibly have touched a very painful nerve... in the instance of Carole Maso's book Aureole, I believe the nerve touched with some unimpressed readers is that of unfamiliarity. Unfamiliarity breeds prejudice. And prejudice breeds hatred. Therefore, I propose that anyone interested, even briefly, in this book read not only it, but other experimental writers, for that is what this writing is, experimental. One cannot grasp its full importance in the current pantheon of writing, with even three or four readings, let alone with one, either. Upon my first reading of it, I was alternately intrigued with the dream-like quality, and annoyed at the pretentious use of 'Frenchness'. It can at times seem vapid and turgid, but then even the most intriguing subjects to one person can seem entirely vacuous to another, especially if conveyed in a way that is not logical. Henry James has a certain way of being inaccessible too. The beauty of Maso's writing is in the way she intends and succeeds in breaking all the literary rules, challenging the accepted and time-worn written and unwritten boundaries of writing. It is this tampering with free-association, prose-poetry, and abandonment of traditional narrative form that makes her writing so spectacular; not the pretentious use of French words, nor the cliches. Her writing is a welcome relief to read as if in another world where one's thoughts do not have to follow an accepted form. They may flutter about at will like butterflies. Poetry does that, and why must everything be rigidly categorized? Authors such as Henry James and Marguerite Duras have called for a writing of the unwritten with form, a writing of the words as they come onto the page, a validation of the first words. A thought to the reader who is left non-plussed by her writing might be that the current form of printed type on a computer takes the form of books, and page-turning, yet there may be other ways of presenting information. Just because the rules of style are written somewhere does not mean that they should not be broken through and explored. Let me leave you with the words that discovery is a process, not without pitfalls, but oh, so beautiful, nonetheless. Wicked. We are. So much so. After the raging light.

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