Understanding Bobbie Ann Mason explores the literary accomplishments of a writer whose works straddle the line between highbrow literature and popular culture, an author whose writings are studied in academia and loved by general readers. Best known for her short story collections and her novels Feather Crowns, Spence + Lila, and In Country—the last of which is also a motion picture—Mason writes about small-town life in contemporary western Kentucky. In this comprehensive analysis, Joanna Price offers an introduction to Mason's nonfiction prose, short stories, and novels, and sheds light on the writer's distinctive style and thematic concerns.
Price considers the labels frequently attached to these works—"dirty realism" and "minimalism"—and rejects a simplistic placement of Mason's oeuvre within these categories. Price traces multiple influences on the writer: an interest in Vladimir Nabokov, the cultural study of fiction for female adolescents, a childhood in rural Kentucky, struggles with class and regional differences, and consumer culture.
In close readings of Mason's works, Price discusses recurrent themes, such as the conflicting desires of clinging to the past and embracing the future, and the multifaceted sense of loss experienced by her characters. Price also addresses Mason's interest in how ideas of self have been affected by the changing ideas of the family, home, and community; the alteration of gender roles; and how femininity is in tension with freedom.
Joanna Price received a D.Phil in American literature from the University of Sussex, England, and is currently head of American studies at Liverpool John Moores University in England. She has published articles on the fiction of Bobbie Ann Mason and other American authors, including Richard Ford, Jayne Anne Phillips, Eva Hoffman, and Paul Auster, and on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Price currently lives in Liverpool.