Feather Crowns

After several years of mastering the short story and the novella, Bobbie Ann Mason, the unofficial spokesman of western Kentucky K-mart culture, has tried her hand at a full-length novel. A fictionalized historical account complete with lots of localized cultural detail and a large cast of characters speaking turn-of-the-century Kentucky idiom, FEATHER CROWNS is almost a textbook example of the novel form.

The story—which takes place in the single calendar year of 1900—falls into two sections. The longest details the birth, infant life, and early death of the first set of quintuplets born in North America; the second recounts the tour the parents take with a carnival-like pitchman to display the preserved bodies of their famous quints throughout the South. The novel ends with two postscript sections—an account of the mother’s pilgrimage in 1937 to visit the famous Dionne quints in Canada and a monologue by the mother on her nineteenth birthday in which she recalls her transformation by fame and dutifully tidies up all the novel’s loose ends.

Mason has an interesting story to tell here about fame and its implications and the religious significance of signs in the natural world. However, what makes this a long novel—perhaps too long—rather than one of Mason’s short stories or novellas is all the local color detail about the food, the superstitions, and the sayings of the nineteenth century natives of the western Kentucky region. It’s well done if you like that sort of thing, but a bit tedious and self-indulgent if you don’t.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXIX, August, 1993, p.2012.

Boston Globe. September 12, 1993, p.45.

Chicago Tribune. September 12, 1993, XIV, p.1.

Library Journal. CXVIII, November 1, 1993, p.148.

Las Angeles Times Book Review. October24, 1993, p.2.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVIII, September 26, 1993, p.7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXL, July 12, 1993, p.68.

The Times Literary Supplement. October 15, 1993, p.20.

USA Today. September 17, 1993, p. D6.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIII, September 5, 1993, p.5.