Ashley Lauren is back today. She is also in our online feminist book club, so I thought this post would be appropriate.

Learn to love the questions themselves.

The spaces between the thoughts. The interval (AVA 171)*

Every time I am asked who my female mentors are, (like the Twitterverse was yesterday by @ShelbyKnox) I always jump to women authors. Maybe this is because I hold a BA in English lit and am currently working toward my MA in English Studies. Maybe this is because I expect my mentors to influence me, change me, become a part of me, and these women and their writings have done just that. For whatever reason, the first role model I always think of is Carole Maso. Her book, AVA, changed my life when I read it. It engulfed me, heart and soul, and changed the way I thought about being a woman.

If you are a woman, feminist or not, or you want a window into the feminine mind, this book is a must-read. It is a true feminine text. Just as women try to wrestle with many things at one time, so does this novel. As soon as we open to the first page, we are completely taken into the mind of Ava Klein, a woman on her death bed. Maso leads the reader through the memories of Ava’s life, as well as the experience of her dying by presenting us with images (the written kind) that come up, add on each other, and become linked together as the book progresses.

These images are always followed by white space in the text, which gives the reader some room to put the pieces of the text together by figuring out which images are in reference to others. It also presents the reader with space to interact with the images themselves. It is imperative to interact with these images, but it is difficult to do so when the character is present in every image that emerges. Ava pervades the poem. When reading the words on the page, there is not a moment in which Ava is not present. In order to personalize and make this an interactive text, one must participate in the blank space – in between the lines – and participate in the reading by making connections within the poem as well as with personal experiences that may relate to or be triggered by the text.

This act of participatory reading gives readers the ability to delve deeper into the text as well as create a personal connection to the characters and images. In short, by the end of the text, if we have read it correctly, we are all intertwined with Ava Klein until we cannot tell which memories are hers and which are our own. In the final moments of the text – in the final moments of Ava’s life – if we have read with the correct strategy within the blank spaces, we are to be so wrapped up in her memories and our own memories that they begin to seep together, creating a sort of inseparable Avareader character. It is this interaction with the text that will give the poem power.

And it is a powerful text. If you begin reading, be warned: Ava (and AVA) will become a part of you, and you a part of her/it. And you will not be able to read it the same way twice. Ava is borderless and free to associate and mingle with other voices. The voices that Maso gives Ava include voices from other authors, philosophers, poets, and people in her life, but Maso also opens the forum to include the voice of the reader. She does not want Ava to be bounded and singular. If she wanted that for her character, she would have written a linear narrative with one clear story.Instead, Maso wants her character to live and breathe within the poem. She has given Ava, and the text, room to grow and change and combine with other things – internally and externally. In this way, Maso is asking us to read ourselves into Ava, to identify with her in ways that we did not think possible before encountering the text. In opening the book, we have accepted Maso’s invitation, and we must give ourselves over to the text and exist in the spaces between Ava’s memories.

*Full Citation: Maso, Carole. AVA. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press, 1993.

(Originally posted here.)


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