Books by Bobbie Ann Mason

Bobbie Ann Mason is known for her award-winning novels set in the South, including In Country and Shiloh and Other Stories. Her latest, The Girl in the Blue Beret, was inspired by her father-in-law’s World War II experiences as an aviator shot down in occupied Europe and aided by the French Resistance. Here, Mason tells us about his past, researching wartime Europe and the idea behind the blue beret. Photo credit: LaNelle Mason

PATCHWORK by Bobbie Ann Mason
Released: June 1, 2018

"Admirable in its broad sweep of Mason's estimable career as a writer and likely as good a gathering as there could be—if, for a fan, too short."
A sturdy introduction to the multifaceted work of Kentucky laureate Mason (Nancy Culpepper: Stories, 2006, etc.). Read full book review >
Released: June 28, 2011

"Like Marshall himself, the novel maintains a reserved, laconic, even pedantic tone—off-putting at times yet often moving."
Mason (Nancy Culpepper, 2006, etc.) may surprise fans of her Appalachian stories with this historical novel about a World War II pilot who returns to France to find the families who helped him survive after his plane was shot down 36 years earlier. Read full book review >
NANCY CULPEPPER by Bobbie Ann Mason
Released: July 18, 2006

"Mason has written some fine novels, in particular In Country (1985) and Feather Crowns (1993), but the short-story form has always seemed especially congenial to her; there's hardly a wasted word or a sloppy sentence in this quiet, gently moving collection."
Four previously published stories, a novella and two new tales follow the author's semi-autobiographical heroine in an uneasy back-and-forth between her native Kentucky and the wider world. Read full book review >
AN ATOMIC ROMANCE by Bobbie Ann Mason
Released: Aug. 30, 2005

"Good characters, but not enough for them to do."
The flickering relationship between a dedicated cytotechnologist and a free-spirited uranium plant maintenance engineer more or less energizes Mason's rambling fourth novel. Read full book review >
ELVIS PRESLEY by Bobbie Ann Mason
Released: Jan. 1, 2003

"Although the complexities of Elvis's character and his place in American culture can't be entirely explicated with such brevity, Mason grasps the essentials with perception and passion."
A noted fiction writer (Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail, 2001, etc.) applies a bracing working-class sensibility and a native understanding of Elvis Presley's southern roots to the familiar tale of his meteoric career. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 14, 2001

"But Mason hasn't been often at her best since early in her career. Sadly, Zigzagging does little to reverse the downward trend."
Appropriately homely imagery and dead-solid perfect dialogue help some, but don't do nearly enough to animate the morose folks who wander through the 11 uneven stories in this third collection from the Kentucky author (Midnight Magic (1998); Clear Springs (1999). Read full book review >
CLEAR SPRINGS by Bobbie Ann Mason
Released: May 3, 1999

An appreciative but often bittersweet meditation on southern family and cultural change by the author In Country (1985) and Feather Crowns (1993). Like many small-town girls, Mason fled her hometown of Clear Springs, Ky., for more exciting locales—the University of Kentucky, New York City, New England—only to be inexorably drawn back. The narrative alternates between remembrance and present-tense visits to the farm where she was raised. Telling her own story, Mason is by turns vivid (as when she writes of her idyllic post-WWII childhood) and vague (describing her troubled young adulthood in the 1960s she airily declares, "The counterculture saved me" without clearly explaining how). Her early years were typically writerly and not terribly compelling: she was ostracized at school for her precocious love of books; early literary influences included Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and Little Women. Her adventures as fan club president for the popular crooners called the Hilltoppers do add some needed spice. But the fiction writer seems far more engaged when divining the motivations and character of family, particularly her paternal grandmother and mother, whose stories are inextricably linked. Mother Chris is a resilient, hardworking woman whose life is nevertheless subjugated to the demands of her husband and mother-in-law. Chris's bleak childhood as an orphan raised (but not loved) by relatives who were caretakers at the county poorhouse provides Mason a context for her own privileged upbringing and eventual rebellion. Grandmother Ethel, also hardworking but an inflexible matriarch prone to nervous breakdowns, dominates the family and provides a link to the disappearing lifestyle that fascinates Mason. As she struggles to extract her family's history from their silence and emotional reserve, she learns about herself and makes a valuable connection between the family's evolution and the larger cultural transformation of the South. A few dull stretches aside, this is a sharp, perceptive family memoir. Lucky is the clan who has a writer of Mason's caliber to preserve and interpret its history. (Author tour) Read full book review >
Released: May 21, 1998

"The mystery of writing," Mason (Feather Crowns, 1993, etc.) notes in the Introduction to this hefty compilation of her short fiction, "is much like diving into the darkness in the middle of the night. It's both dangerous and fraught with possibility." Repeatedly, Mason's characters, products of the uncertain New South of the 1970s and '80s, either gather up their courage to plunge into change or flee it. In "Bumblebees," for instance, two women largely cut off from the world by grief make a tentative and profoundly moving (if understated) attempt to escape from its confines. By contrast, in "Memphis," a woman increasingly isolated from her family, unable to act, reflects that most of those around her were "being pulled along by thoughtless impulses and notions, as if their lives were no more than a load of freight hurtling along on the interstate." This selection, drawn from Mason's two volumes of short fiction (Love Life, 1989; Shiloh and Other Stories, 1982) reminds one of the quiet virtues of her work: her wry, exact portrait of a South caught somewhere between tradition and a bland modern culture of interstates and shopping malls, and her ability to suggest, in the guarded speech of her characters, a world of confusion and hope. Subtle, resonant work. Read full book review >
FEATHER CROWNS by Bobbie Ann Mason
Released: Sept. 29, 1993

Christie and James Wheeler, tobacco farmers in turn-of-the- century Hopewell, Kentucky, and already parents of three, become the most illustrious people of their time and place when Christie gives birth to quintuplets. Her pregnancy was marked by a misdiagnosis of fibroids—and after the birth Christie wonders whether her so liking sex with her husband (as well as being once erotically charged by a preacher's millennial verve) could have contributed to so freakish an issue. But whatever their cause, the five babies demand heroic attention: Christie's milk is nowhere near adequate; a black nursemaid is called in. Also arriving are the curious—from as far away as St. Louis and Chicago. But in a matter of months the babies all die—``wooled to death,'' Christie thinks, from being overhandled by strangers; killed by Negro milk, James prefers to think. In any case, life after the babies grows hard economically as well as sentimentally; when a crop goes bad, Christie and James allow themselves to be suckered into going on a lecture tour (with the five tiny embalmed bodies in a glass case) that degenerates into a carny sideshow and worse. Shaking off their nightmare, the Wheelers finally allow a scientific institute to keep the babies' bodies for research; and the book ends with Christie in old age paying a visit to the Dionne quints. Mason (Love Life, etc.) has a wonderful story here and knows it, but has chosen to tell it so slowly, at such deliberate pace, that only the babies' deaths (and Christie's frantic impotence to stop the dying)—plus some of the freak-show hucksterism on the post-death tour—come over as vivid enough to be indelible. Mason's usually fine dialogue is muffled by historical distance, and the book simply is too long to maintain Christie's painful awe at life's oddness. The theme of exploitation rises foremost, but it's a late one the novel accedes to almost halfheartedly—sociology more cut and dried than the fearful psychology of Christie's grief. (First printing of 60,000) Read full book review >
LOVE LIFE by Bobbie Ann Mason
Released: March 15, 1989

"Bumblebees," a story about two women overly acquainted with grief but making a new start in a house out in the country, is the magnificence here, in Mason's first stow collection since Shiloh: it'll probably become a classic. In this story, Mason is working at her fullest—material woven with sympathy, humility, and a whole new sense of the pastoral, the most threatened genre in American literature. It is her willingness to consider what passes for satisfaction in un-urbanized Americans that is Mason's great strength, anyway. In "Hunktown," she's written probably the most incisive story yet about country-and-western music—its "pointless suffering," its promiscuous nostalgia and self-indulgence. In "The Secret of the Pyramids," a woman's affair With a married man is canopied by lowered expectations—yet Mason is alive to sensations most writers would miss: "Barbara loves the lighting in the mall—the way it is broken by the variegated greenery around the fountain and the rainbow colors of the merchandise in the store window. The dark flow of pedestrians against the brilliant fluorescence makes her think of that sunset on the Mississippi River last year." In "Memphis," a divorcee cannot find the margins of her misery; she can only sense how many people were—like her husband Joe and her mother—"half conscious, being pulled along by thoughtless impulses and notions, as if their lives were no more than a load of freight hurtling along on the interstate." The generosity that Mason can bring to her people—as well as the lack of moralistic pomp—are unusual, which is why her fiction remains of documentary importance while also being beautiful as artifact. But for all that, the short form seems to chafe here, as it didn't in Shiloh—many stories have flattened rhythms, too-similar structures, even narrative hesitations. In In Country and Spence + Lila. Mason has shown herself to be increasingly comfortable in the novel's longer form, and you get the sense that—as generous as the portraiture of her stories is—Mason's talent has in some ways gone beyond them. Read full book review >