The title story of the collection, Shiloh and Other Stories, is typical of the development of Mason's characters throughout the volume. In "Shiloh," Leroy Moffit has suffered a leg injury which has curtailed his career as a truck driver. He and his wife, Norma Jean, live in a small, nondescript house in Kentucky, while he pursues dreams of building a log cabin for himself and his wife. Norma Jean embarks on a course of self-improvement, pursuing programs in everything from physical fitness to English composition. Like many of Mason's characters, Norma Jean's aspirations for individual development appear somewhat naive and limited; however, they do have real consequences.
Norma Jean's mother has constantly urged Norma Jean and Leroy to visit the Civil War battlefield at Shiloh, the site of her own honeymoon, and when they do visit the site, partly to escape from their own disintegrating relationship, Norma Jean announces that she is leaving Leroy. Typical of Mason's characters, this breakdown seems both inevitable and pathetic. Neither is able to grow in the present circumstances, yet Leroy is unable to formulate the means to make their relationship a ground for real individual development.
Much the same dilemma is faced by the older couple Mary Lou and Mack Skaggs in "Rookers." While Mary Lou plays cards with older women friends and socializes in town, Mack stays home with the woodworking projects that are both his livelihood and his refuge from the world. He tries to read to keep up with their daughter who is away at college, but when she comes home before her exams, Mack is largely unable to communicate with her. This attitude is best captured at the end of the story by his telephone calls to the weather recording, which allows him to feign communication without speaking.
This sense of estrangement also characterizes Mason's women. The young girl, Peggy Jo, in "Detroit Skyline," visits her aunt and uncle in Detroit with her mother shortly after the introduction of television in America, During this visit her mother suffers a miscarriage, while Peggy Jo learns of the nascent world of television and about the "red scare" that is worrying her uncle and jeopardizing his job. For Peggy Jo, the promise of Detroit's skyline seems both alluring and threatening, and her experiences are very distant from her home in Kentucky.
Much the same distance is described in "Drawing Names," when Carolyn Sisson attends a Christmas dinner with her family. She and her sisters try to maintain a sense of familial harmony, but this often means placating their husbands or boyfriends, and Carolyn's own lover, Kent, fails to show up for the occasion. Most difficult of all are Carolyn's father and Pappy, her mother's father. Carolyn ultimately elicits a compassionate response from Jim, the man living with her sister, Laura Jean, whose presence at this family dinner is not entirely well received, particularly by the other men. Jim's outsider status as a Northerner and as someone who is morally suspect in this conservative family gives him insight into Carolyn's feelings of alienation. And although Carolyn feels closer to Jim at the end of the story and somewhat free of her family's often oppressive judgments, her estrangement from this supposed harmony is not diminished.
In the story "Nancy Culpepper," the title character searches for a photo of her namesake great-great-aunt, and this search becomes emblematic of a larger attempt to connect herself to her ancestors. She, like other female figures in Mason's work, feels distanced from her family, but Nancy's distance has been caused by her move to the North and her advanced education.
On the whole, Mason's stories depict characters who are experiencing both a transformation of the family and a dissolution of the ways of economic life that had traditionally defined their families. Within this context, they are forced to establish a separate identity to achieve reconciliations, however temporary, with their lovers,...
(The entire section is 1,269 words.)