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Bobbie Ann Mason - Biography

Bobbie Ann Mason (1940 - )
Commentary by Karen Bernardo

A friend of mine, reading one of Bobbie Ann Mason's short stories in a literary magazine, remarked, 'I can't see what's so 'literary' about this. It seems really mainstream to me.' Yet Bobbie Ann Mason's distinctive voice eloquently captures the modern American South, a region which seems to feel exceptionally guilty about its inability to hold onto the past. Her meaning peels off in layers, like an onion, making these stories extremely enjoyable to analyze but still a 'good read.'

The two stories featured in Storybites both begin with a family unit. In the case of 'Shiloh,' that family unit is a husband, wife, and mother-in-law; in 'Drawing Names,' it is a large extended family gathering together to celebrate Christmas. In both stories, however, there is a conflict between the characters expectations for themselves and one another -- built up out of traditional social roles -- and the reality of their lives. 

In 'Shiloh,' Norma Jean would have been perfectly happy if her husband had never gotten injured, and had been able to go on acting like the normal good-old-boy she married. The fact that Leroy's injury changed him also required changes of Norma Jean, and the story chronicles her attempts to deal with this.
'Drawing Names' uses the unrealistic expectations we have for the perfect Christmas as a metaphor for the unrealistic expectations we have of life. Carolyn (whose name evokes Caroline Kennedy, the perfect daughter of the perfect family) tries to bring her boyfriend to her parents' Christmas dinner because all her sisters have 'significant others,' and she feels incomplete without a mate. However, she realizes over the course of the story that just as their family Christmas doesn't fit the covers of 'House Beautiful,' none of its members fit the profile of perfection either -- and that's all right. Their Christmas is beautiful; their family is beautiful; and Carolyn doesn't need a man to be complete.

Unlike her fellow Southerner Flannery O'Connor, Bobbie Ann Mason has managed to perfectly capture the essence of what it means to be a Southerner in a changing world without ever slipping into satire or scorn. Her people are real, but for the most part lovable; her conflicts are acute but remarkably universal. Mason's stories capture her region's spirit without being drowned by it; we may chuckle at her characters, but only because in them we see ourselves.

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Shiloh and Other Stories

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