Mason’s Retreat

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Having established himself as a major voice in short fiction with his collection of stories, IN A FATHER’S PLACE, Christopher Tilghman here looks to make his place as a novelist—and he succeeds quite nicely.

MASON’S RETREAT, first of all, is an historical novel. Tilghman sets his novel in the America of the 1930’s, a crucial historical and dramatic moment, for it greatly affects the conditions and welfare of the novel’s central family. Edward and Edith Mason, and their two boys Sebastien and Simon, are transplanted Americans who return to their home country from England in 1936. Edward, an industrialist, has lately known hard times and hopes to achieve a sort of familial recovery by coming back to the family estate—Mason’s Retreat—on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. At the same time, he is looking to get his own financial fortunes back on track in the prewar economy.

The trip back to America—the “retreat,” as it were—first proves fortuitous. The old estate retrieves some of its old productivity; the eldest son, Sebastien, feels himself moving toward manhood; Edith embraces a new kind of individual freedom and discovers a different womanly identity. Yet circumstances also bring hardship. The “ghosts” of the family’s past seem to haunt the mansion’s new inhabitants; the landscape invites not only adventure and freedom but also disaster.

Part of the problem is that the family already is fractured along...

(The entire section is 440 words.)