Beauty Is Convulsive
Beauty Is Convulsive is a biographical meditation on one of the twentieth century's most compelling and famous artists, Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). At the age of nineteen, Kahlo's life was transformed when the bus in which she was riding was hit by a trolley car. Pierced by a steel handrail and broken in many places, she entered a long period of convalescence during which she began to paint self-portraits. In 1928, at twenty-one, she joined the Communist Party and came to know Diego Rivera. The forty-one-year-old Rivera, Mexico's most famous painter, was impressed by the force of Kahlo's personality and by the authenticity of her art, and the two soon married. Though they were devoted to each other, intermittent affairs on both sides, Frida's grief over her inability to bear a child, and her frequent illnesses made the marriage tumultuous. This prose poem is typical Maso --vigorous, daring, always original. She brings together parts of Kahlo's biography, her letters, medical documents, and her diaries with language that is often as erotic and colorful as Kahlo's paintings.
In this poetry-like fiction, novelist and essayist Maso uses images from the life of Frida Kahlo to create, as she describes in her author's note, a deeply personal meditation: an attempt to be in some kind of dialog with [Kahlo] across time and space-and with myself. This interaction between the author and her subject is the heart of this book, making it an imaginative, internalized interpretation of Kahlo's life and work, even if it is reliant on factual material, including Hayden Herrera's Frida. Maso's fiction is inclined toward the heights of passion and despair, so Kahlo's life, marked as it was by physical anguish and by her sensual and often pain-riddled self-portraits, makes for fitting material. Repetition, songlike cadences, and the occasional first-person narrator will make this book more appealing to readers interested in how prose, poetry, and biography intersect than to those wanting straightforward narration. But interest in Kahlo, spiked by the recent film and perhaps by Kate Braverman's The Incantation of Frida K., may draw new readers to this consistently inventive writer. Maso's prose has generated wide respect, making this an important purchase for libraries with literary fiction collections.
Carolyn Kuebler, Library Journal
AVA, Maso, a highly original writer, distills her contemplation of Kahlo's indelible paintings and vital diaries and letters into a supple, discerning, and haunting prose poem, a biographical meditation that elegantly charts Kahlo's epic resiliency, artistic daring, unrelenting suffering, soul-saving "sense of the ridiculous," and glorious defiance. Maso's spare yet lyric tribute, a genuine communion, is a welcome antidote to the mawkishness and sensationalism that is starting to blur our appreciation for Kahlo's pioneering art and incandescent spirit.
Donna Seaman, Booklist
Amid the recent resurgence of interest in Frida Kahlo, Carole Maso's Beauty Is Convulsive offers an intimate tribute to the life and art of the Mexican painter…Beauty Is Convulsive begins with the pain of Frida Kahlo, depicting the artist as a misshapen angel, dreaming of the way beauty keeps coming--the way color vibrates--convulsive--drawn / to the swirling / drawn / to the light. Through this series of devotional prose poems, Maso imagines a scintillating dialogue between two artists--Kahlo and herself--engaged in the process of Arranging and rearranging. Outlining the shape of a woman and gently filling her in. Maso celebrates the artist's intense need to paint that emerges from the spontaneous impulse of ... feeling and lovingly re-creates the physical eroticism of Kahlo's creative process. Yet while Maso's devotions express themselves in the voices of Kahlo's letters and lovers, her doctors and her critics, the radiant, fragmentary vision of Kahlo that Maso encounters upon this elaborate stage of identity is inherently personal. Maso repeatedly cites Rivera's description of Kahlo's art as ascetic and tender, hard as steel and fire and delicate as a butterfly's wing, adorable as a beautiful smile and profound and cruel as life's bitterness. Without a doubt, one might apply these same words to Maso's precise and poetic prose, which brims with emotion, imagination, intelligence, and beauty.
Trey Strecker, Review of Contemporary Fiction