111. Masque (Rachel Zolf)

Although the least interesting of Zolf's books, Masque remains an intriguing take on a tired genre — the “autobiographical novel” — as Zolf arranges fragmentary lines into a dramatic script for a family in crisis. Much of the text involves Zolf elliptically dramatizing her relationship with her father, famed journalist Larry Zolf, and examining the role of media in interpersonal relationships. Part long poem, part experimental novel, Masque refuses pat emotions in favour of a complicated web of conflicting insights.

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4 thoughts on “111. Masque (Rachel Zolf)

  1. To say that the “autobiographical novel” as a genre is “tired” is to say the “genre” of human phenomenological experience is tired. You may or may not believe that, but it’s a pretty grand statement to just throw out there like that.

  2. No, it’s to say that the bland conventions of a narrow literary genre are not dynamic enough to do justice to the vast realm of human phenomenological experience. Which is perhaps an unfair criticism, but a specific, narrow complaint about a literary genre rather than a writing-off of human culture.

  3. I don’t think that autobiographical novels, in any sense that would include Masque, are defined as a genre or limited by bland conventions.

  4. I see your point — my complaint regarding autobiographical novels, as a broad genre, is the importing of many of the conventions of the nineteenth-century novel to twenty- and twenty-first century memoir (“fictionalizing” themselves out of the memoir genre) to transform lived experience into literature in unimaginative ways that fail to engage/deal with the developments of/after modernism. As opposed to, say, dynamic books like BY GRAND CENTRAL STATION I SAT DOWN AND WEPT.

    Perhaps you’re right that MASQUE is too far away from this genre in the first place, too far to even serve as a welcome break from conventions (e.g., the journey of transformation, the surmounting of past trauma). Since I no longer own the book (I wrote this note two years ago) it’s hard for me to say.

    You could see some of those plot conventions in a book like GRAND CENTRAL, but the narrative voice still seems a far cry from the generic narration and clean chronologies of other books. You’re right, though, that the term “autobiographical novel” doesn’t really refer to a rigid genre.

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