Sunday, May 2, 2010

The New South

Bobbie Ann Mason became well known twenty years ago when she wrote “Shiloh and Other Stories”. She wrote a best selling novel, “In Country”, and her memoir, “Clear Springs” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But she is best known for the strong characters and descriptive details of her short stories.
“Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail” was published in 2001. These stories have a distinct southern flavor but they roam the world from England to Alaska and even to Saudi Arabia. They are about people who are searching the world for meaning in their lives and many of them find themselves back in Kentucky, the place they began their quest.

The first story, “With Jazz”, finds a middle aged woman who has been divorced twice and finds herself visiting her son who lives alone in the woods. She sits down on his bed and felt strange, “as though all my life I had be zigzagging down a wild trail to this particular place.”

In “Tobrah” a single, forty five year old woman goes to her father’s funeral in Oklahoma and finds herself home in Kentucky the caretaker of her father’s four year old daughter. In “Rolling into Atlanta”, Annie Rhodes finds herself working as a sort of undercover agent for the owner of a chain of restaurants. But she finds herself strangely attracted to the people she should be investigating.

Sandra, who has escaped from a small town in Kentucky and found an exciting life in Alaska, now returns home to care for her ailing father. She tries to tell her father about her wonderful life in Alaska, but she realizes that what is important is to be there for her father.

All of Ms. Mason’s characters are strong, independent and striving to understand their world. But in the end they find what they need by zigzagging back to the world they came from.

“Zigzagging Down A wild Trail” is a great collection of short stories by a writer who uses drama, humor and wonderful language to present a clear picture of the South and how it has been changing over the past few decades.

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