Bobbie Ann Mason’s work focuses on a corner of the United States that you might never have though much about, unless you are from there: Western Kentucky. If you are Southern, it will probably resonate with you a bit. Same if you are from the mountains. But if you are American, you know that there are many of these little corners that are each a bit different from each other.
Mason’s short story collection, Shiloh, takes readers backwards and forwards in time to people in different places, ages, and circumstances, but what they all share are their roots in Kentucky. Mason also brings us an eye for detail, so that readers can join in even with the food the characters eat, which actually reminds me of what my Memaw (yes, people really have Memaws), who was from central North Carolina, fed us.
People in Mason’s stories frequently have long, productive relationships of all kinds. The relationships are so long that frequently they end through natural causes, or in other words, a death. Read these stories and decide whether that is a bad thing or not.
Shiloh is Bobbie Ann Mason’s first short story collection, so if you start with this one, you will see hints of things to come, most notably the story “Nancy Culpepper”, which is the first in a series of stories and novella’s Mason has written about this character. If you enjoyed Olive Kitteridge, try Nancy Culpepper. The Olive Kitteridge character is from the north; Nancy Culpepper is a southern character who marries and moves north. That fact alone makes an interesting contrast.
Here’s the sequel, in case you missed it.
Bobbie Ann Mason has written a lot of nonfiction as well as fiction. If you subscribe the The New Yorker, check their archives online.
I always enjoy a study of popular literature; I don’t know why. This is out of print, but I’m looking forward to getting a library copy to read.
If you’d like a more recent version of a similar story, try this.
Elvis is a quintessential Southern topic to write about. Also, Memphis Tennessee, where Elvis is from, is not too far from Western Kentucky.
More by Bobbie Ann Mason to enjoy
Read Mason’s memoir for the real stories behind her fiction. I’m always interested to see how authors’ lives influence their work.
The Girl in the Blue Beret is based on Mason’s father-in-law’s WW2 experiences. So many people like to read about WW2…using her father’s experiences must give the story an extra layer of authenticity, but look below for more about where Mason found this story.
This short story collection features characters who get out into many parts of the world.
Feather Crowns the imagined story of the first documented quintuplets in North America, which as is turns out, was in Kentucky.
I know, we all have questions because we know the Dionne Quints.
I found an interview with the Missouri Review (below), where Mason discusses the real life basis for this novel along with her other works.
Judging by reality TV, we are all perennially interested in the topic of multiple births…if you haven’t read this recently published book, you’ll want to.
1997 Interview with Bobbie Ann Mason, from The Missouri Review
The Real Girl with the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason, from The New Yorker, 2013
Nancy Culpepper, from The New Yorker, 1981
National Archives and Records Administration [Public domain]
Paducah County Kentucky, “Two Men Plowing”, 1937