Skip to main content
Select Source:

Mason, Bobbie Ann

Bobbie Ann Mason, 1940–, American regional author, b. Mayfield, Ky., grad. Univ. of Kentucky (B.A., 1962), State Univ. of New York, Binghamton (M.A., 1966), Univ. of Connecticut (Ph.D., 1972). Her dissertation, a study of nature imagery in NabokovAda, was published as Nabokov's Garden (1974) and was followed by The Girl Sleuth (1975), a feminist guide to Nancy Drew and her ilk. Mason taught (1972–79) at Pennsylvania's Mansfield College, leaving academia to become a full-time writer. She is best known for her acutely observed short stories of working-class life in the New South, which began to appear in the New Yorker,Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines in the early 1980s. The pop-culture milieu of strip malls, tract houses, fast-food joints, and trash television characterizes her highly acclaimed first volume of stories, Shiloh and Other Stories (1982), and reappears with other facets of contemporary Southern life in later collections—Love Life (1989), Midnight Magic (1998), and Zigzagging down a Wild Trail (2001). Mason has also written novels, e.g., In Country (1982), Feather Crowns (1993), and An Atomic Romance (2005).

See her Clear Springs: A Memoir (1999); A. Wilhelm, Bobbie Ann Mason: A Study of the Short Fiction (1998); J. Price, Understanding Bobbie Ann Mason (1998).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mason-bobbie-ann

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mason-bobbie-ann

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mason, Bobbie Ann

MASON, Bobbie Ann

Nationality: American. Born: Mayfield, Kentucky, 1 May 1940. Education: The University of Kentucky, Lexington, 1958-62, B.A. 1962; State University of New York, Binghamton, M.A. 1966; University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1972. Family: Married Roger B. Rawlings in 1969. Career: Writer, Mayfield Messenger, 1960, and Ideal Publishers, New York; contributor to numerous magazines including Movie Star, Movie Life, and T.V. Star Parade, 1962-63; assistant professor of English, Mansfield State College, Pennsylvania, 1972-79. Since 1980, contributor to The New Yorker. Awards: Hemingway award, 1983; National Endowment award, 1983; Pennsylvania Arts Council grant, 1983, 1989; Guggenheim fellowship, 1984. Agent: Amanda Urban, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019.

Publications

Novels

In Country. New York, Harper, 1985; London, Chatto and Windus, 1986.

Spence + Lila. New York, Harper, 1988; London, Chatto and Windus, 1989.

Feather Crowns. New York, Harper, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1993.

Short Stories

Shiloh and Other Stories. New York, Harper, 1982; London, Chatto and Windus, 1985.

Love Life. New York, Harper, and London, Chatto and Windus, 1989.

Midnight Magic: Selected Stories of Bobbie Ann Mason. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1998.

Uncollected Short Story

"With Jazz," in New Yorker, 26 February 1990.

Other

The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide to the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Their Sisters. New York, Feminist Press, 1975.

Nabokov's Garden: A Nature Guide to Ada. Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ardis, 1976.

Clear Springs: A Memoir. New York, Random House, 1999.

*

Film Adaptations:

In Country, 1989.

Manuscript Collection:

University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Critical Studies:

"Making Over or Making Off: The Problem of Identity in Bobbie Ann Mason's Short Fiction" in Southern Literary Journal (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Spring 1986, and "Private Rituals: Coping with Changes in the Fiction of Bobbie Ann Mason" in Midwest Quarterly (Pittsburg, Kansas), Winter 1987, both by Albert E. Wilhelm; "Finding One's History: Bobbie Ann Mason and Contemporary Southern Literature" in Southern Literary Journal (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Spring 1987, and "Never Stop Rocking: Bobbie Ann Mason and Rock-and-Roll" in Mississippi Quarterly (Jackson), Winter 1988-89, both by Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Jr; "The Function of Popular Culture in Bobbie Anne Mason's Shiloh and Other Stories and In Country " by Leslie White, in Southern Quarterly (Hattiesburg, Mississippi), Summer 1988; "Bobbie Ann Mason: Artist and Rebel" by Michael Smith, in Kentucky Review (Lexington), Autumn 1988; "Downhome Feminists in Shiloh and Other Stories " by G.O. Morphew, in Southern Literary Journal (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Spring 1989; Bobbie Ann Mason: A Study of the Short Fiction by Albert Wilhelm, New York, Twayne, 1998.

* * *

Bobbie Ann Mason is known for her portrayal of everyday Americans who perhaps read the newspapers and the tabloids and a favorite ladies or hobby magazine each week rather than pick up a book but who are, nonetheless, people whose stories deserve to be told. Mason's characters are farmers and truckers and waitresses and hairdressers as well as the unemployed. They are usually people working, or attempting to work, without college degrees, though some may be taking a course or two at their local community college. Like the late short story writer Raymond Carver, Mason gives voice to the working class in American life who labor long and hard, often without being taken seriously by those who are educated and who consequently may have some kind of power over decisions that affect these people's lives. Mason's contribution to American literature is important because, as she has often noted in interviews, there are more people living in the working classes in America than there are in the professions, and to ignore their stories is to ignore the fertile heartland of what makes that large nation tick.

Most of Mason's characters are European-Americans from, or around, her native state of Kentucky. Her award-winning short story collection, Shiloh and Other Stories, is a good introduction to Mason's interests and concerns. Ironically, it is this work that most of the people she writes about will least likely read themselves. Several of the stories first appeared in The New Yorker magazine, which is geared toward an audience of urban professionals. "Shiloh" and other stories from the collection are often now anthologized in college textbooks. Exploitation of the working class might be a fair charge to level at Mason in this context, were not the stories themselves told with such dignity toward the characters' hopes and dreams as well as the everyday problems and deeper tragedies of despair that are universal. The book portrays a phenomenon called the "new South" of the 1970s and 80s, when suburban icons such as shopping malls, fast food and discount store chains, and cable television first moved to the more remote rural areas of the Southern states.

Oddly enough it was probably Mason's first novel, In Country, that made her work more known by the people of western Kentucky. This was probably more due to the film version that was shot in Paducah a few years later. Mason says that it gave her particular pleasure to see area residents used as extras in the filming of the story, which is primarily about the aftermath of the Vietnam War on a family and a community. Sam is a teenager whose father died in Vietnam and whose Uncle Emmett returned home infected with Agent Orange. The novel explores Sam's quest for her father, her desire to know him through his diary and letters, and her attempt to unlock long-kept secrets from her uncle who, like may vets who came back, does not want to talk about the war. In many ways, Sam represents the next generation of American youth, as well as those of the same generation as the war who have unanswered questions about a history that is being kept silent and locked away by those who came home to a national ambivalence about the conflict. By the end of the novel, Sam comes to some measure of knowledge and understanding about the conflict, and many vets have heralded Mason's novel and the subsequent film for helping start a long overdue national dialogue about the Vietnam war and its aftermath.

What may be unfortunate about Mason's choice of details, such as the use of the television show M*A*S*H, which fuels Sam's imagination about war and begins her discussions with Emmett, is that the "new South" will not stay new forever. She is often criticized for her heavy use of allusions to popular culture, which are trendy and transient, at best. It will be an interesting facet of Mason's work in the years ahead to examine whether the pop culture allusions to television shows and commercials, for example, which are so familiar to her contemporary readers, will interfere with future readers' understanding and enjoyment of the novel.

Spence + Lila is, on the surface, a simple love story between a man and a woman who have been married for forty years. They are a farm couple who suddenly come face to face with a much more technical world when Lila is diagnosed with breast cancer. This is a couple for which love has been enacted on a daily basis, but perhaps not spoken about much. Spence struggles with words to express to Lila how he feels about her and his fear of losing her, and much of the novel is about the value of the verbal expression of love in a relationship that has every other sign of it intact.

Feather Crowns is perhaps Mason's weakest novel to date. In this novel, she veers away from the people and times she knows so well and attempts to put some of the same themes to work back at the turn of the century with a family that bore North America's first set of quintuplets. The couple tours with them like a sideshow act. The carnival-like atmosphere surrounding the couple echoes the artificiality of today's celebrities in popular culture, but so far Mason is on sounder ground writing about contemporary people and issues.

Perhaps Mason herself felt the need to regain her footing on familiar soil as well. In Clear Springs: A Memoir, her next book after Midnight Magic, a remix of previously published stories, Mason literally brings her writing back home to western Kentucky, describing her own experience coming of age in the middle of the twentieth century.

Connie Ann Kirk

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mason-bobbie-ann

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Contemporary Novelists. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mason-bobbie-ann

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mason, Bobbie Ann

MASON, Bobbie Ann

Born 1 May 1940, Mayfield, Kentucky

Daughter of Wilber A. and Christi Anna Lee Mason; married Roger B. Rawlings, 1969

Bobbie Ann Mason writes of the world of the changing South that she inhabited during her childhood. It is a world of people who shop at Kmart, listen to rock and roll, and go to shopping malls for entertainment. She grew up on her parents' dairy farm near Mayfield, Kentucky, reading Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twins. When she was ten, she began to write her own mysteries. Her writing career took off briefly when she was a teenager and became the national president of the Hilltoppers Fan Club. She wrote their monthly newsletter and corresponded with the presidents of other fan clubs.

When she entered the University of Kentucky in Lexington in 1958, Mason began to read more classical literature, but, she claims, she related to none of it. She knew she wanted to be a writer, but received no encouragement. Upon graduation in 1962, she went to New York and wrote for fan magazines such as Movie Stars, Movie Life, and T.V. Star Parade. She returned to graduate school and received her M.A. from the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1966 and her Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut in 1972. Her dissertation on Nabokov's Ada became her first published book, Nabokov's Garden: A Guide to Ada (1974). Returning to her childhood reading, Mason's second book was The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide to the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Their Sisters (1975). She taught English for several years at Mansfield College in Pennsylvania and started to write literary criticism and short fiction.

Mason was in her mid-thirties before she began to write serious fiction. In 1980 the New Yorker accepted her story "Offerings," which later became a part of Shiloh and Other Stories (1982). This first book of fiction was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award, the American Book award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and received the Ernest Hemingway Foundation award in 1983. The title story, "Shiloh," was anthologized in Best American Short Stories for 1981, and "Graveyard Day" was reprinted in the 1983 edition of The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses. A sale to Redbook followed shortly thereafter.

Mason received fellowships from both the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. She also joins other Southern writers (authors who live or grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line and who write about life in the South) such as Truman Capote, Pat Conroy, James Dickey, Shirley Ann Grau, Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, William Styron, John Kennedy Toole, Eudora Welty, and Anne Rivers Siddons as a past Steinberg Symposium Fellow. As an interesting side note, the Prize of the United States of America was conferred on Barbara Vieser for her essay "Modernity and Regional Consciousness in Short Prose Works by Bobbie Ann Mason and Lee Smith."

While "Shiloh" is the most anthologized, Mason feels that the central story of the book Shiloh and Other Stories is "Residents and Transients," which focuses on her fascination with the conflict between those who stay home and those who run away. The story highlights the tensions between the old and the new South and between the world of mass, popular culture, and the world of academic, elite culture. Mason has her most scathing words for the elite who disdain those who shop at Kmart and spend their leisure time at shopping malls, and she treats her drugstore workers and truck drivers with love and respect. While they pay their bills and eat at McDonald's, they often dream of something more in their lives, and these dreams lead them to paint watermelons, build log cabins out of popsicle sticks, use fennel toothpaste, and, like Mason herself, dream of returning home to Kentucky. Sometimes, though, her characters are only dimly aware of living lives of quiet desperation. Mason's regional sense and her eye for the details and detritus of everyday life enrich Shiloh and Other Stories, while her love for her characters lends them dignity.

Mason's first novel, In Country (1985), began with a set of characters much like those in her short stories. They live marginal lives on the fringe of the middle class and spend time listening to rock and roll and driving secondhand cars and trucks to the mall. As Mason wrote, the story of Samantha (Sam) Hughes' loss emerged. Sam's father was killed in Vietnam before she knew him. Her mother has remarried and just had a new baby, and Sam is living with her uncle, Emmett Smith, a Vietnam veteran. The Vietnam War is the biggest thing that has happened in the lives of all the characters, and in America's life as well. While rejecting didacticism, Mason creates the texture of the Vietnam experience. After spending the night in a swamp with her father's diary, Sam emerges knowing she will never really experience being "in country," but her search for her father leads her to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., where she sees not only her father's name, Dwayne E. Hughes, but also her own—Sam A. Hughes. The memorial represents America for Sam, just as it did for Mason when she first saw it. In Country records America's tragedy in Vietnam and reminds readers of the continuing loss from dangers experienced there, such as Agent Orange.

Mason's second novel, Spence and Lila (1988), follows the personal tragedy of Lila Culpepper's cancer. Married for over 40 years, Spence and Lila have reared their children and farmed their rural Kentucky farm. Now their future is threatened by a lump in Lila's breast. With the same unerring ear for dialogue that characterized her earlier work, Mason reveals the impatience, fear, loneliness, and love that wash over ordinary human beings as they try to deal with family and with old age, disease, and death. Lila's encounter with mortality helps her see how many people "won't or can't come out with their feelings," but despite their inability, Mason is able to reveal her inarticulate characters' emotions. Nancy, Spence and Lila's daughter, who also appears in "Nancy Culpepper" and "Lying Doggo" in Shiloh and Other Stories, is one of Mason's transients, while her sister, Cat, and her brother, Lee, are residents who stay close to their parents' farm.

With Love Life (1989), Mason returned to the short story form. The collection, which focuses on varying responses to love, has, like Shiloh and Other Stories, thematic interconnections that make it almost novelistic. Like those in her earlier work, the characters listen to rock and roll and watch MTV and live on the margins of the middle class in small-town Kentucky. Here, as in all of her work, Mason takes lives that seem on the surface to be barren and devoid of interest and invests them with will, dignity, and grace.

Mason's third novel, Feather Crown (1993), is a tribute to Kentucky and to Christine Wheeler, mother of the first recorded quintuplets born in North America. Already the mother of three, Christine struggles with moral issues as she also battles to keep her tiny children alive. A black woman is brought in as a nursemaid to help, since Christine cannot produce enough milk herself, and then the predators come, seeking to exploit the family. Like In Country, the novel records America's choices and the conflicts they create, as Mason chronicles day-to-day life for the struggling family. The book was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award and was listed by the New York Times as a 1993 Notable Book and by Publishers Weekly as one of the 20 best novels of the year.

In 1996 Mason joined Garrison Keillor, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, and Annie Dillard in David Pichaske's Late Harvest: Rural American Writing, which contains the short story contributions of 35 contemporary authors in an anthology following America's firm ties to its rural roots. In 1998 Midnight Magic: Selected Stories of Bobbie Ann Mason was released, collecting 17 of Mason's stories already seen in Shiloh and Other Stories and Love Life. She also became the subject of a book-length work, Bobbie Ann Mason: A Study of the Short Fiction, by Albert Wilhelm, as part of Twayne's Studies in Short Fiction series. The book covers Mason's career from the first story up to early 1998.

Other Works:

Clear Springs: A Memoir (1999).

Bibliography:

Reference works:

CA 53-56 (1975). CANR 11 (1984), 31 (1990). CBY (1989). CLC 28 (1984), 43 (1987). DLBY (1987). Major Twentieth Century Writers (1991).

Other references:

The American Claimant (1997). NYT Magazine (15 May 1988). Southern Literary Journal 19 (Spring 1987). Passion and Craft: Conversations with Notable Writers (1998). Southern Writers (1997). Wilhelm, A., Bobbie Ann Mason: A Study of the Short Fiction (1998). Women Writers of the Contemporary South (1984). A World Unsuspected, Portraits of Southern Childhood (1990).

—MARY A. McCAY,

UPDATED BY DARYL F. MALLETT

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mason-bobbie-ann

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/mason-bobbie-ann

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mason, Bobbie Ann

MASON, Bobbie Ann

Nationality: American. Born: Mayfield, Kentucky, 1 May 1940. Education: The University of Kentucky, Lexington, 1958-62, B.A. 1962; State University of New York, Binghamton, M.A. 1966; University of Connecticut, Storrs, 1972. Family: Married Roger B. Rawlings in 1969. Career: Writer, Mayfield Messenger, 1960, and Ideal Publishers, New York; contributor to numerous magazines including Movie Star, Movie Life, and T.V. Star Parade, 1962-63; assistant professor of English, Mansfield State College, Pennsylvania, 1972-79. Since 1980, contributor to The New Yorker.Awards: Hemingway award, 1981; National Endowment award, 1983; Pennsylvania Arts Council grant, 1983, 1989; American Academy and Institute for Arts and Letters award, 1984; Guggenheim fellowship, 1984; President's Citation, Vietnam Veterans of America, 1986; Appalachian Medallion award, University of Charleston, 1991; Southern Book award, for Feather Crowns, 1993. Honorary degrees: University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.

Publications

Short Stories

Shiloh and Other Stories. 1982.

Love Life. 1989.

Midnight Magic: Selected Short Stories of Bobbie Ann Mason. 1998.

Uncollected Short Story

"With Jazz," in The New Yorker. February 1990.

Novels

In Country. 1985.

Spence + Lila. 1988.

Feather Crowns. 1993.

Other

The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide to the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Their Sisters. 1975.

Nabokov's Garden: A Nature Guide to Ada. 1976.

With Jazz, with original art by LaNelle Mason. 1994.

Still Life with Watermelon, with original art by LaNelle Mason. 1997.

*

Critical Studies:

"Making Over or Making Off: The Problem of Identity in Bobbie Ann Mason's Short Fiction" in Southern Literary Journal (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Spring 1986, and "Private Rituals: Coping with Changes in the Fiction of Bobbie Ann Mason" in Midwest Quarterly (Pittsburg, Kansas), Winter 1987, both by Albert E. Wilhelm; "Finding One's History: Bobbie Ann Mason and Contemporary Southern Literature" in Southern Literary Journal (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Spring 1987, and "Never Stop Rocking: Bobbie Ann Mason and Rock-and-Roll" in Mississippi Quarterly (Jackson), Winter 1988-89, both by Robert H. Brinkmeyer, Jr.; "The Function of Popular Culture in Bobbie Anne Mason's Shiloh and Other Stories and In Country " by Leslie White, in Southern Quarterly (Hattiesburg, Mississippi), Summer 1988; "Bobbie Ann Mason: Artist and Rebel" by Michael Smith, in Kentucky Review (Lexington), Autumn 1988; "Downhome Feminists in Shiloh and Other Stories " by G. O. Morphew, in Southern Literary Journal (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), Spring 1989; "Humping the Bonnies: Sex, Combat, and the Female in Bobbie Ann Mason's In Country " by Katherine Kinney, in Fourteen Landing Zones: Approaches to Vietnam War Literature edited by Philip K. Jason, 1991; "Realism, Verisimilitude, and the Depiction of Vietnam Veterans in In Country " by Matthew C. Stewart, in Fourteen Landing Zones: Approaches to Vietnam War Literature edited by Philip K. Jason, 1991; "History as Her Story: Adapting Bobbie Ann Mason's In Country to Film" in Vision/Revision: Adapting Contemporary American Fiction by Women to Film by Barbara Tepa Lupack, 1996.

* * *

Bobbie Ann Mason's two collections of short stories have established her as a writer working in a distinctive style and writing about a particular group of people in a particular place. She is a regional writer par excellence. Almost all of her stories are set in the western part of Kentucky, and most of them concern relatively inarticulate characters who are struggling economically and often emotionally with troubled marriages. Much of her work has elements in common with the school of dirty realism. The men drink beer and drive trucks; the women do the wash, cut out recipes for hamburgers, and talk among themselves. Both the men and the women are typically unemployed or work in low-paying jobs—for example, as cashiers. They are dispassionately observed by an unknown narrator. Other cities—Nashville, Louisville, Lexington—may be mentioned, but that is as far as the limited horizons of the characters extend. One of the characters may occasionally speculate on possibilities that open up or on needs that remain unfulfilled in an increasingly complex world.

In the story "Memphis," for example, Beverly thinks to herself, "It ought to be so easy to work out what she really wanted. Beverly's parents had stayed married like two dogs locked together in passion, except it wasn't passion. But she and Joe didn't have to do that. Times had changed. Joe could up and move to South Carolina. Beverly and Jolene could hop down to Memphis just for a fun weekend. Who knew what might happen or what anybody would decide to do on any given weekend or at any stage of life?" Often, as in "The Rookers," this is the older characters' complaint: "This day and time, people just do what they please. They just hit the road." But most of the time the characters remain trapped by the limits of their own circumstances and imagination.

Almost all of the stories are written in the third person and in the present tense. The prose is deliberately flat and almost monotonous, as if to reflect the banality of the characters' lives. The banality also extends to the icons of popular culture that recur, the endless TV shows like Mork and Mindy, Donahue, and The Today Show, the references to Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe, the descriptions of a world of fast food and Laundromats and of paper plates and overflowing garbage cans. "Love Life," for instance, is full of physical details: a Coors cap, remote control paddle, Kleenex box, decanter, glasses case, and so on.

There is little or no analysis of the characters' inner consciousness. Almost invariably the story opens with a flat statement involving one or two of the characters: "Barbara drives slowly from her apartment through the downtown loop to the west side of town" ("The Secret of the Pyramids"); "When Jane lived with Coy Wilson, he couldn't listen to rock music before noon or after supper" ("Airwaves"). There is a concentration on superficiali-ties and externals, and the reader is left to infer feelings and motives that the characters are unable to articulate for themselves. The stories are full of dialogue, but almost always the speakers are at cross-purposes, and the conversations do not connect.

Almost always, too, the situations of crisis or disturbance in the stories are left unresolved, with the protagonist isolated and caught in a kind of freeze-frame. In "The Rookers" Mary Lou "sees the way her husband is standing there, in a frozen pose. Mack looks as though he could stand there all night with the telephone receiver against his ear." Other stories end with an enigmatic homage to nature. In "The Climber" Dolores's eyes "rest on a familiar quince bush in front of the house. It flowers in the spring, but sometimes in the fall a turn of the weather, or perhaps a rush of desire, will make the bush bloom again, briefly, with a few carmine flowers—scattered, but unmistakably bright." Such epiphanies are rare and subtle, however.

Evangelical religion sometimes enters into the stories. In "The Climber" Dolores "has the Christian channel on only for the music. She likes to think she is impervious to evangelists." Nevertheless, she worries about what a missions specialist describes as "the gap of unbelief" that can be bridged only by Jesus Christ: "The gap of unbelief sounds threatening, like the missile gap." Georgeanne in "The Retreat" is dissatisfied with her marriage to a former juvenile delinquent turned preacher but without really knowing why. A workshop concerning Christian marriage and the subtle prejudices it reveals cause her to reassess her life. She is dimly aware of the enormous gulf between obscure yearnings and intractable duty. In a brilliant ending she lops off the head of a chicken: "When the ax crashes down blindly on its neck, Georgeanne feels nothing, only that she has done her duty."

The title story from Mason's first collection, Shiloh and Other Stories, is representative of her short fiction . It opens in typically mundane fashion as "Leroy Moffit's wife, Norma Jean, is working on her pectorals." Leroy is a truck driver who has more or less lost his nerve after being involved in an accident. He now sits around the house but has taken to building things from craft kits, and he plans to construct a log house. His wife has taken up bodybuilding. There is the usual background detail—Donahue on the TV, long drives in the car, mention of Paducah (which comes up in many of the stories), and conversations full of loose ends and cross-purposes. Leroy and Norma Jean drive to the Civil War monument at Shiloh. Norma Jean talks about leaving her husband, but at the end nothing has been decided. The story ends on a characteristic note of irresolution: "Norma Jean has reached the bluff, and she is looking out over the Tennessee River. Now she turns towards Leroy and waves her arms. Is she beckoning to him? She seems to be doing an exercise for her chest muscles. The sky is unusually pale—the color of the dust ruffle Mabel made for their bed."

There are a few exceptions to this pattern. "Detroit Skyline, 1949," one of Mason's few stories written in the first person, has a consciously reminiscent, autobiographical tone. The narrator, Peggo Jo—many of the women in Mason's stories have double-barreled names—remembers a rare excursion out of Kentucky: "When I was nine, my mother took me on a long journey up North because she wanted me to have a chance to see the tall buildings of Detroit." She gets to see a lot of television, which is a revelation to her, but never Detroit. "State Champions" also sounds autobiographical. It begins "In 1952, when I was in the seventh grade, the Cuba Cubs were the state champions in high-school basketball" and has the feel of personal experience. The narrator, Peggy, recalls the miraculous win by country boys in a small town in Kentucky. The story is a portrait of the girl growing up but also of country life and its poverty and rituals: "Country kids didn't learn manners. Manners were too embarrassing. Learning not to run in the house was about the extent of what we knew about how to act. We didn't learn to congratulate people; we didn't wish people happy birthday. We didn't even address each other by name. And we didn't jump up and spontaneously hug someone for joy." "Marita" is told in alternating sections, in the first person by the 18-year-old Marita and in the third person by her mother, Sue Ellen.

The best of Mason's work has a gritty authenticity and dry humor, but at times the monotony and limitations of the figures she writes about seep into the prose as well. "Residents and Transients" is one of the few stories that attempt to take a wider and more analytic perspective of the characters' cultural predicaments. The narrator, Mary, has taken a lover who is a Yankee, and she is dimly aware of the changes that are coming over her town: "The schoolchildren are saying 'you guys' now and smoking dope."

—Laurie Clancy

See the essay on "Shiloh."

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mason-bobbie-ann

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/mason-bobbie-ann

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.

Mason, Bobbie Ann

MASON, Bobbie Ann

MASON, Bobbie Ann. American, b. 1940. Genres: Novels, Novellas/Short stories, Literary criticism and history, Autobiography/Memoirs. Career: Full-time writer. Mansfield State College, Mansfield, PA, assistant professor of English, 1972-79. Publications: Nabokov's Garden: A Nature Guide to Ada, 1974; The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide to the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Their Sisters, 1975; Shiloh and Other Stories, 1982; In Country, 1985; Spence + Lila, 1988; Love Life, 1989; Feather Crowns, 1993; Midnight Magic, 1998; Clear Springs, 1999; Zigzagging down a Wild Trail, 2001; Elvis Presley, 2003. Address: c/o Amanda Urban, International Creative Management, 40 W 57th St, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Writers Directory 2005. . Encyclopedia.com. 20 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Writers Directory 2005. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 20, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/mason-bobbie-ann

"Mason, Bobbie Ann." Writers Directory 2005. . Retrieved September 20, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/mason-bobbie-ann

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.