Review by Rebecca Woolston
Carole Maso’s book, The Room Lit by Roses, is a book of life, the interconnectedness of souls, lyric, silence, solitude, and desire. Even more, this book is an inside look at not only the writing life, but the writing life in relation to motherhood. Often, this is a question many women ask themselves: is it possible to be an artist and a mother without one or the other suffering? Maso typically writes fiction, but The Room Lit By Roses is a work of non-fiction—the tracking of her pregnancy and birth of her daughter.
Maso opens her memoir telling us that although she had always wanted to have a child, “other feelings had taken its place.” An experience many women are faced with: work became consuming, the idea of a child disappearing into the past like a dream that resonates in the body but is hard to remember. Obviously, a child for Maso came to fruition, but this is not simply a book chronicling a woman’s pregnancy. This is a book about a woman experiencing her pregnancy through her art. Maso states a resounding yes, that women who are artists—or all women for that matter—may put off motherhood, whether accidentally or intentionally, but they can, in fact, enjoy both a career and a family; They can have a child and not have their work suffer. Maso’s beautiful language seems to elevate itself in ways not typically seen in her other books. Her lyric takes on its form, says, “I know what I’m doing,” and the imagination of the writer and the experiences are moving. The writing offers an explanation for its power, one that I often think about as both a woman and an artist:
“To conception I brought the same things I bring to my writing: focus, faith, will, intuition, license, rigor, and recklessness. A position of mind that allows, within a structure of my own making, for the accidental, the unexpected, the contingent. To hold one’s mind and body and spirit at exactly the right angle- ready for whatever will happen. Taking full advantage of a moment should it, no matter how fleetingly, present itself. Once again, my writing has taught me how to live.”
Maso is not only teaching herself, but has taught me, and hopefully many others, about living and writing. The Room Lit by Roses speaks: you can do whatever you want as long as you, the artist, still bring to it the same attentiveness and breath that has always been brought to the art, to life.
As with all of Maso’s writing, this book is honest in the deepest sense. She goes into the depths of her mind and writes what women seem to be afraid to tell each other. A co-worker recently told me that nobody tells you after you have a baby that you will have times when you look at your child and think, “oh my god, I have done this, what do I do?” Maso lets us into these thoughts and gives voice to all the emotions following postpartum, writing, “disheartened to be the old self again. The cruel withdrawal of the happy hormones.” She gives us this thought after she has given birth, reflecting on what it seems many women experience, but are afraid to speak about. As if there should be shame in this. Maso also observes that there are clubs, “women with children are somehow pleased when someone else joins their ranks… this island of motherhood.” This island in which women are supposed to be 100% happy, 100% of the time. Indeed, Maso opens up the roundedness (no pun intended) of pregnancy and childbearing beautifully. She shows us there is more to it than merely nine months of the body changing and then a baby emerges. She shows us there is a power to harness for the woman, “I notice what a secret this is kept. How belittled pregnant women are by our culture. How taken for granted. It doesn’t surprise me.” She shows the magic surrounding pregnancy—how much stronger women are for it—rather than being in a weakened state as so often thought. It is an empowering state for the body, and yet is frequently seen as something that is a right of passage, a definition for women, something seen as a duty. Rather, it is the growing and interconnectedness of two souls, of two organisms working with and for each other. The pregnant woman is a superhuman.
Maso reflects that her child she has grown pregnant with is also the one she had been writing in the book she felt would “be the project for the rest of [her] life.” The book that would essentially allow her child to disappear from the world and only exist in the pages of her book. But in fact, Maso seems to have created both. The desire manifested, and so her daughter came. And so she lives, in the book that is The Room Lit by Roses, and in life. If you’re looking for a book about the giftedness of life, the power of a growing embryo, and the honesty of the female body, this is the one you’ll want to read.
Carole Maso was born in Paterson, New Jersey. She has written 10 books, including Mother & Child, Defiance, Aureole, The American Woman in the Chinese Hat, and The Room Lit by Roses. She currently teaches creative writing at Brown University and working on her next book The Bay of Angels. Visit her website for more.
(Header image from Whuffling)