Shiloh, and Other Stories

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

Short stories by Bobbie Ann Mason have been appearing in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Redbook, North American Review, and elsewhere during the early 1980’s. The sixteen pieces assembled in her first collection of short fiction are even more impressive when read as a group. They are unified by a strong sense of place, by a particular kind of character, by a firmly individual voice, and by themes and feelings that are universal.

The place is western Kentucky, sharply realized through concrete particulars of food, social custom, and speech. Paradoxically, the specific details also make the setting familiar to many readers, because Mason uses them to supply context rather than local color. Her western Kentucky is not a museum of hillbilly life and quaint tradition, but a locale that might be found almost anywhere beyond the urban centers of America. It has Kmarts and bowling leagues, Tupperware and matched sets of furniture, and flea markets on third Mondays. People rent their houses; they think about going to Florida or Arizona. The primary timepiece is not the sun or the clock but the television set: visitors drop by in the middle of “The Waltons,” and Christmas dinner is cooked during “Days of Our Lives.”

The people are working men and women: truck drivers, bus drivers, carpenters, clerks at Rexall or Kmart or Krogers. Women without regular jobs sew sets of cheerleader uniforms or look after gardens and hens; one “non-working” wife, in “The Rookers,” hauls lumber for her husband, delivers bookshelves, makes trips to exchange screws, keeps the books, cans, sews, and sometimes puts in a few weeks at H & R Block. The minister in “The Retreat” does electrical work for money because the church does not pay enough. When children go to college, it is usually to a local junior college; one exception, Nancy Culpepper (who appears in two stories), is, like author Bobbie Ann Mason, a college graduate living in Pennsylvania, but she is first seen on a trip to Kentucky to help her parents move Granny into the nursing home (and, not incidentally, to try to rescue Granny’s photographs lest they be thrown away).

Mason’s most striking achievement is her ability to present these people vividly, on their own terms, with absolute respect and dignity. One never hears the voice of an educated author condescending, or exaggerating for the sake of humor, or giving explanations that the characters are too simpleminded to understand, or sentimentalizing the “naturalness” of their lives. Part of the effect grows from the accumulation of material detail: coconut cakes with seven-minute icing, chicken mites that the doctor thinks are body lice, soup-based casseroles, Cokes and Corningware, photo albums with plastic pockets, blackberry cobblers, a weskit pattern with the facing missing, Hollie Hobbie cards, bonded knit shirts, bourbon and boiled custard, fudge-ripple ice cream, the details of daily living such as chopping onions or running out to the Kwik-Pik at the last minute to get grape juice for Communion. Because the details are so specific,...

(The entire section is 1265 words.)


(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 13)

Arnold, Edwin T. “Falling Apart and Staying Together: Bobbie Ann Mason and Leon Driskell Explore the State of the Modern Family.” Appalachian Journal 12, (Winter, 1985): 135-141. This article attempts to show how a male and a female writer approach the theme of family differently by comparing Mason’s Shiloh stories with the works of another Kentucky writer, Leon Driskell. This article is especially valuable to the investigator who wishes to study Mason as a feminist writer.

Giannone, Richard. “Bobbie Ann Mason and the Recovery of Mystery.” Studies in Short Fiction 27 (Fall, 1990): 553-566. In a focused analysis of Mason’s characters, Giannone is concerned with the reaction of Mason’s characters to the situations in which they find themselves. In most cases, the characters find themselves without clear answers at the end of their stories.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. December 5, 1982, p. 12.

Nation. CCXXXVI, March 19, 1983, p. 345.

The New Republic. CLXXXVII, November 1, 1982, p. 36.

The New York Review of Books. XXIX, December 16, 1982, p. 38.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, November 21, 1982, p. 7.

Newsweek. C, November 15, 1982, p. 107.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXII, September 17, 1982, p. 98.

Ryan, Maureen. “Stopping Places: Bobbie Ann Mason’s Short Stories.” In Women Writers of the Contemporary South, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. The thrust of this article is to show how the women characters in the Shiloh stories try to find a place for themselves in a contemporary world of ever-changing moral expectations and social roles for women. To underscore her argument, Ryan shows how Mason’s stories have moved the literary depiction of the South from the Old South plantations into the contemporary world of malls and beauty parlors.

White, Leslie. “The Function of Popular Culture in Bobbie Ann Mason’s Shiloh, and Other Stories and In Country.” The Southern Quarterly 26 (Summer, 1988): 69- 79. This article is good for its discussion of Mason’s use of popular culture to depict the commonness of her characters. In Shiloh, and Other Stories and in her Vietnam novel In Country (1985), Mason follows her characters through their daily lives, which are governed by the encroachment of various aspects of popular culture.

Wilhelm, Albert E. “Private Rituals: Coping with Change in the Fiction of Bobbie Ann Mason.” Midwest Quarterly 28 (Winter, 1987): 271-282. Wilhelm provides an interesting and informative look at Mason’s presentation of the private means her characters employ to deal with the changes that occur in their lives.