Love Life

Bobbie Ann Mason again gives her readers what they have come to expect from her, after such previous works as SHILOH AND OTHER STORIES and SPENCE + LILA--that is, a lean microcosm populated by losers who could be memorable if there were not so many of them. What is literally true for Jennifer in “Piano Fingers” is figuratively true for most of the characters in these stories: They have long fingers, but only short keyboards to play. Even someone such as Liz, in “Sorghum,” who attempts to escape Mason’s formula for imposing restrictions upon her characters, has offered to her what she wants but then decides she does not want it.

Most of these Kentucky folks spend much of their time watching television and learning about their lives from “Donahue,” “20/20,” “60 Minutes,” and Bakkeresque evangelists. When they are not watching TV or working at dead-end, low-wage jobs, Mason’s women wander in malls, discuss quilts, look at family photographs, grieve over men they should have married, brood over whether or how to leave men they did marry, and generally submit passively to ennui. What Beverly’s ex-husband Joe says to her, in “Memphis,” applies to most of these stories’ men and women: “You’re so full of wants,” he says, “you don’t know what you want.”

In “Bumblebees,” Barbara suffers because “everything around her was growing in some sick or stunted way, and it made her feel cramped.” In “Big Bertha Stories,” Jeanette says, “Reality’s my whole problem.” And in “Private Lies,” Donna says, “I think death is a whole lot easier to get over than the mess people make of their lives.” There is plenty of Kentucky swampland for sale here, described in unremarkable prose and the trendy present tense.