As can be deduced from the name of this blog, Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers. I have enjoyed Jeannette Winterson whose style is similar to Woolf’s. To that list, I have added Carole Maso. Her audience is not as wide as it should be given her talent. Of course, stream of consciousness has never been particularly easy to read and this is how Maso writes, at least in GHOST DANCE.
Maso uses a recurring image, that of a Topaz Bird, throughout the novel. The Topaz Bird is an elusive creature signifying creativity, I think, and madness. Carole Maso weaves a beautifully written tale of grief, loss, and redemption too. Ghost Dance is about ideas and emotions rather than plot, though things do happen. Longing, loss, and the grief that comes from irremediable loss are, I think, the main themes of the book.
The longing in the book is the longing for both familial and romantic love. It is the sort of longing whose intensity is often inversely proportional to the intensity of feeling that is reciprocated. Or, if the love is reciprocated, at least in some sense, the longing is for outward, meaningful demonstrations of that love.
A mother sits on the heart of this novel. The weight of her beauty and absence oppresses everything and everyone. Her essence, like the Topaz Bird that is, it seems, her soul, is a beautiful and free creature that cannot be caught or caged. Those that love her are, therefore, doomed to a certain passivity in watching and waiting for her. Like a bird, she stays but a moment and then is gone.
Sometimes I think I have heard the fluttering of wings. Sometimes I think I have seen something: a tip of a tail, a piece of beak, a leg, one thin leg of that incredible bird. Sometimes I see the bare branch of a tree swaying in slow motion in my sleep and I know what that means. I try to get myself past the tree to see what’s beyond it — the field that opens like a great hand, the wide breath of sky. I search for a trace of the Topaz Bird. Only moments before it was perched on that bobbing branch. I am getting closer. I follow the horizon line of my dreams. I watch.
Carole Maso’s poetic prose conveys the orbit of various family members and lovers around the mother. The story circles around, approaching the central truth and flitting away again. Certain sections are repeated several times through the book, sometimes verbatim, sometimes nearly so. In this way, Ms. Maso returns and emphasizes certain themes, including the rhythms of love, longing, and grief.
Absent mothers do, I think, create a craving in their children that cannot be satisfied. The same may be true to mismatched lovers. This aspect, the much-loved but oft-absent (both physically and emotionally) mother/lover, is portrayed beautifully, with a truth that is gripping. This book, because of its emotional power, will not be one that is easy to forget. It is, I think, worthy of remembering for its artistry as well as for the technical achievement Ms. Maso manages.
This review is largely stolen from my own Amazon.com review of the same work. But I wanted to republish it here because this is a book worthy of a wider audience or, at least, of not being forgotten.
[Updated July 25 with edits that were erroneously omitted from the initial posting.]