Authors: Bobbie Ann Mason

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

In Country, 1985

Spence + Lila, 1988

Feather Crowns, 1993

Short Fiction:

Shiloh, and Other Stories, 1982

Love Life, 1989

Midnight Magic: Selected Stories of Bobbie Ann Mason, 1998

Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail, 2001

Nonfiction:

Nabokov’s Garden: A Guide to “Ada,” 1974

The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide to the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Their Sisters, 1975, 1995

Clear Springs: A Memoir, 1999

Elvis Presley, 2002

Biography

Bobbie Ann Mason is a significant American short-story writer and novelist. She grew up in rural western Kentucky, where her father was a dairy farmer. During her childhood she helped with farm chores, listened to popular music, and read literature such as Nancy Drew and other girl sleuth mysteries.{$I[AN]9810001716}{$I[A]Mason, Bobbie Ann}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Mason, Bobbie Ann}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Mason, Bobbie Ann}{$I[tim]1940;Mason, Bobbie Ann}

After earning her B.A. from the University of Kentucky in 1962, she moved to New York City, where she worked for Ideal Publishing Co. and wrote for popular magazines such as Movie Stars, Movie Life, and T.V. Star Parade. She received her M.A. in English at the State University of New York at Binghamton in 1966. In 1969 she married Roger B. Rawlings, an editor and writer, and in 1972 she received her Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut. After receiving her doctorate, Mason began teaching at Mansfield State College in Pennsylvania, where she continued to teach until 1979. While teaching, she published two scholarly books, Nabokov’s Garden: A Guide to “Ada” and The Girl Sleuth: A Feminist Guide to the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew, and Their Sisters.

During the 1980’s Mason’s short stories began to appear in distinguished magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Her short-story collections Shiloh, and Other Stories and Love Life also appeared in the 1980’s. Throughout these stories Mason provides a realistic picture of ordinary people, portraying working-class characters of rural western Kentucky who work at Kmart or Rexall Drugs, drive trucks, build houses, and clip grocery coupons. Mason’s portrayal of Kentucky folk stems partly from her memories of the people in her rural western Kentucky hometown. Lack of economic means often intensifies characters’ struggles, leading to divorce or drinking. The characters frequently lack direction in their lives, failing to recognize or act upon opportunities to improve their circumstances.

Mason’s short stories exemplify minimalism, a writing technique that consists of a pared-down writing style, realism, little surface plot, open-ended resolutions, and frequent use of first-person and present-tense narrative devices. Mason’s fiction is compared with that of minimalist writers such as Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, and Frederick Barthelme.

Strained romantic relationships is one subject that recurs throughout Mason’s short fiction. In “Shiloh,” one of Mason’s most acclaimed stories, Leroy, a truck driver, and his wife, Norma Jean, struggle to cope with their marriage, strained partially because of the death of their child years ago. “Big Bertha Stories” reflects a young couple’s attempt to cope with the psychological effects of the Vietnam War on the husband. The title story of Love Life depicts young Jenny and her aunt Opal, who sips alcohol and watches television. Both women consider their single marital status, and the story exemplifies differences between generations, the old, rural way of life and that of the new generation, which occupies the modern enterprising world.

Mason is also well known for her portrayal of popular culture, especially her allusions to pop singers and her quotations of lyrics from popular tunes. The portrayal of popular culture is as apparent in her short novel In Country as it is in her short stories. Also set primarily in rural western Kentucky, In Country is told from the point of view of seventeen-year-old Sam Hughes, a young woman whose father was killed in Vietnam before she was born. Sam searches for family history as well as answers about the Vietnam War, along with her Uncle Emmett, who was wounded both physically and psychologically in the war. The novel includes many pop cultural references: Sam and Emmett watch M*A*S*H, there are allusions to the Beatles, and a quotation from Bruce Springsteen’s album Born in the USA (1984) serves as an epigraph. Such references symbolize the attitudes of post-Vietnam War American culture, a major theme in the novel.

In her second short novel, Spence + Lila, Mason portrays the simple lives of Spence and Lila Culpepper, who live in rural Kentucky. When Lila has a mastectomy, she and Spence are forced to recognize a changing world, one full of modern technology and impersonal attitudes. The modern lifestyles of their three grown children are juxtaposed to the simple rural existence Spence and Lila have lived all their lives. One main subject of the novel is the notion of the agrarian tradition versus industrialism, a lifestyle complicated by modern machines and corporations.

Feather Crowns is Mason’s first full-length novel. The same rural Kentucky setting Mason uses in her earlier novels and many of her short stories is used in this novel. In Feather Crowns Mason depicts Christie and James Wheeler, a tobacco farming couple. Spanning more than sixty years, the novel begins in 1900 with Christie giving birth to quintuplets, an event that brings the couple national attention, and ends with Christie’s retrospective insights about celebrity. The event brings reporters, doctors, and sightseers to the little town, again juxtaposing the simple life to modern industrial progress.

BibliographyBlythe, Hal, and Charlie Sweet. “The Ambiguous Grail Quest in ‘Shiloh.’” Studies in Short Fiction 32 (Spring, 1995): 223-226. Examines the use of the Grail myth in “Shiloh”; claims the story is a contemporary version of Jessie Weston’s “Waste Land.” Argues that the myth lends universal significance to the minutiae-laden lives of a twentieth century western Kentucky couple in a troubled marriage.Brinkmeyer, Robert H., Jr. “Never Stop Rocking: Bobbie Ann Mason and Rock-and-Roll.” Mississippi Quarterly: The Journal of Southern Culture 42, no. 1 (1988-1989): 5-17. Footnoted from seven other articles and interviews, this essay explores Mason’s use of rock music as a significant expression of contemporary culture.Eckard, Paula Gallant. Maternal Body and Voice in Toni Morrison, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Lee Smith. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002. Focusing on southern and African American women writers, Eckard explores the way female authorship subjectivizes the experience of motherhood, as opposed to the objectification of motherhood by male writers.Giannone, Richard. “Bobbie Ann Mason and the Recovery of Mystery.” Studies in Short Fiction 27 (Fall, 1990): 553-566. Claims that Mason’s rural characters are caught between an incomprehensible otherworldly force and the loss of their this-worldly anguish; they are mystified by contemporary life while robbed of the mysteries of their lives. Discusses “Shiloh,” “Retreat,” and “Third Monday.”Morphew, G. O. “Downhome Feminists in Shiloh, and Other Stories.” The Southern Literary Journal 21, no. 2 (1989): 41-49. In a considered treatment of Mason’s down-home feminists, Morphew notes that the heroines want space within relationships, not equal pay for equal work. The essay notes differences between the actions of Mason’s educated and uneducated heroines.Pollack, Harriet. “From Shiloh to In Country to Feather Crowns: Bobbie Ann Mason, Women’s History, and Southern Fiction.” The Southern Literary Journal 28 (Spring, 1996): 95-116. Argues that Mason’s fiction is representative of southern women authors who, without general recognition, have been transforming southern literature’s characteristic attention to official history.Price, Joanna. Understanding Bobbie Ann Mason. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2000. Part of the Understanding Contemporary American Literature series, this study provides fairly comprehensive coverage of all Mason’s works.Rothstein, Mervyn. “Homegrown Fiction: Bobbie Ann Mason Blends Springsteen and Nabokov.” The New York Times Biographical Service 19 (May, 1988): 563-565. This essay reports Mason’s love of rhythm and blues in high school and notes the semiautobiographical details of Spence + Lila.Ryan, Maureen. “Stopping Places: Bobbie Ann Mason’s Short Stories.” In Women Writers of the Contemporary South, edited by Peggy W. Prenshaw. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. An overview of Mason’s themes and character portraits, this sampling provides a brief treatment of many different works.Thompson, Terry. “Mason’s ‘Shiloh.’” The Explicator 54 (Fall, 1995): 54-58. Claims that subdivisions play an important role in the story for gaining a full appreciation of the two main characters; argues that the subdivision is a metaphor for the marriage of the couple.Wilhelm, Albert E. Bobbie Ann Mason: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1998. This critical study of Mason’s short fiction examines the influence of her femininity and her identity as a southerner on her writing. Includes such topics as the place that Kentucky plays in her work as well as a bibliography and index.Wilhelm, Albert E. “Bobbie Ann Mason: Searching for Home.” In Southern Writers at Century’s End, edited by Jeffrey J. Folks and James A. Perkins. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1997. Discusses the effect of American involvement in Vietnam in “Big Bertha Stories” and In Country. Argues that these two stories of soldiers’ attempts to return home expand the theme of social dislocation to mythic proportions.Wilhelm, Albert E. “Private Rituals: Coping with Change in the Fiction of Bobbie Ann Mason.” Midwest Quarterly 28, no. 2 (1987): 271-282. This article includes interview commentary from Mason as well as analysis of the rituals in several of the stories. Of the works he treats, Wilhelm examines “Shiloh” most closely.
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