(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Customs of the Country” is narrated by a woman whose attempts to recover custody of her son lead her to settle temporarily in the rural Virginia countryside near Roanoke. The woman does what she believes to be all the right things to convince authorities of her fitness as a mother, hoping that the child will be removed from foster care and returned to her. She rents a small apartment in a cluster-housing development, where through the thin walls, she is able to hear her neighbors quarreling. Occasionally, she hears a man beating a woman, but she does nothing to stop him. Instead, she goes about fixing up her apartment with furniture and decorations so that authorities will judge it a fit place to raise her son, Davey.

To prove that she can care for Davey financially, the woman takes a job as a waitress at a truck stop near Interstate 81. The proprietor, Tim, and a coworker, Prissy, sympathize with her and assist her in her efforts to work through the social services system to secure a hearing before a magistrate. That process is complicated, however, and the woman meets one roadblock after another; even the attorney she hires to help her cannot seem to get social services personnel to cooperate. During the time the woman is working to gain back her son, she tries to befriend her neighbor Susan, who is abused by the man with whom she lives. The narrator’s efforts are rebuffed, however, and she soon abandons attempts to be sociable.


(The entire section is 553 words.)