In Country was the first novel that Bobbie Ann Mason had published. Until just a few years earlier, she had been an unknown college teacher. Her first book of fiction, Shiloh, and Other Stories, was a great critical success. The short story collection earned nominations for the National Book Critics Circle award, the American Book Award, and the P.E.N./Faulkner Award for fiction. Critics and readers awaited the publication of In Country with much anticipation.
The book, which takes place in western Kentucky, concerns a teenage girl's questions about the war in Vietnam, where her father died and her uncle served. Unlike many serious works of literature, which generally avoid current events because they will soon be outdated, the novel has constant cultural references that were fresh when it was published in 1984. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, for instance, which is central to the story, had been dedicated as recently as 1982, and the Bruce Springsteen album that is quoted in the epigram and mentioned frequently thereafter was released in 1984.
In addition to the timely cultural references, the characters that Mason presented also helped her gain a broader audience than many novelists enjoy. These characters do not have their interests and sensibilities formed by reading literature, but, like most Americans, they know life through the references that the consumer culture has given them. McDonald's, Holiday Inn and the shopping mall are all not just abstract, but significant pieces of their lives. In Country, like most of Bobbie Ann Mason's works, succeeds in using the mundane aspects of modern life in a search for greater meaning.