Bobbie Ann Mason burst onto the American literary scene during a renaissance of short fiction that Raymond Carver called a "literary phenomenon." Anne Tyler hailed Mason as "a full-fledged master of the short story." Mason's work, charged with a spirit of exploration, garnered both popular and critical acclaim.
This reader collects outstanding examples of Mason's award-winning work from throughout her writing career and provides a unique look at the development of one of the country's finest writers. Patchwork contains short stories first published in the New Yorker and other leading periodicals; chapters from Mason's acclaimed novels, including In Country, An Atomic Romance, and The Girl in the Blue Beret; and riveting excerpts from Mason's eclectic nonfiction. Some examples of Mason's recent explorations in flash fiction appear here in print for the first time.
Mason's writing glows with a nuanced understanding of the struggles and pathos of American life in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. George Saunders writes in his introduction, "Bobbie Ann Mason is a strange and beautiful writer.... Her stories exist to gently touch on, and praise, even mourn, what it feels like to be alive in this moment." Patchwork conveys Mason's extraordinary talent and range as a writer.
"Fiction, at its best, is not mere depiction, but effects a change upon the reader so as to prepare her for more enlightened living in the world -- as Kafka famously says, it 'prepares us for tenderness.' This is not to say that fiction should preach.... On the contrary: fiction often simply lays out the difficulties we face; underscores the challenges presented to human happiness. The work of Bobbie Ann Mason, it seems to me, does this in a particularly loving fashion, full of truth, characterized by a refusal of the sentimental, embracing of a muscular form of hope." -- from the foreword by George Saunders, author of Lincoln in the Bardo
"Bobbie Ann Mason is one of those rare writers who, by concentrating their attention on a few square miles of native turf, are able to open up new and surprisingly wide worlds for the delighted reader." -- New York Review of Books, reviewing Shiloh and Other Stories
"Synopsis cannot begin to do justice to the complexity, drama, and ultimate benevolence of Mason's vision." -- Chicago Tribune, reviewing Feather Crowns
"Bobbie Ann Mason writes with a pure, original voice from the heartland about all of us beyond any borders of state or nationality, gender or politics. Her work has always been from the heart -- true, insightful and honest. She's a star in America's literary sky." -- James Grady, recipient of France's Grand Prix du Roman Noir, Italy's Raymond Chandler medal, and Japan's Baku Misu award for literature
"What an astonishing writer! And here is a generous rattlebag, a quilt of her best materials -- from American classic short stories to novel extracts to the quick punchy hits of her flash fictions and some of her luminous essays in the bargain. Throughout, Bobbie Ann Mason is fun but never dizzy, full of instruction but never pedantic, frisky but never trivial, important but never ponderous. She is master of the sentence and its best music and understands in her very soul how to (stealthily, quietly) keep her reader spellbound. She is the rarest sort of disciplined writer, possessed of an intuition for the art of sorting out the telling incident, the perfect line of dialogue, the signal impulse in a character's life, or in her own, and excluding the dross. With Wendell Berry and Robert Penn Warren she is one of Kentucky's greatest literary artists, meaning she is one of the world's greatest, nothing less." -- James Robison, author of The Illustrator
"Bobbie Ann Mason is an American master, an American original, and a (sly) American treasure. Funny, as sleuth-smart as Flannery O'Connor, and as Southern, Mason is also courageously godless. Her work is utterly contemporary in its deadpan attunement to the far off tremors of that apocalypse bumbling toward us. These moments of grace in the aisles of a big box store or among the graves at Shiloh, she reminds us, are more than enough to memorialize our nation, forever." -- Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Quiet Dell
"What a treat, to have this book. In all ways, Bobbie Ann Mason is generous -- as readers will understand when reading this book. She's so observant and funny, and her characters so human. I took particular delight in some of the very short pieces, which I didn't know, and in re-reading my favorites. She's one of our very best writers, and this book is such a very good idea." -- Ann Beattie, author of The Accomplished Guest
"With Patchwork, fans including me have a rare opportunity in the literary world: to savor a body of work as a whole in one volume and to learn from the author herself about the wellspring of her writing life. Here we find an overview, an essence, of her pithy, sparkling, often funny stories, her lovely reminiscences of life in rural western Kentucky, her literary essays and interviews, her hilarious New Yorker riffs on subjects as different as sheep in New Zealand to a Picasso exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art to President Clinton's phrase "Adam's off ox." If you're wondering about this writer's range, consider her pivot from Vladimir Nabokov to Mark Twain to Elvis Presley. As a kind of provisional summing up, Patchwork is an indispensable addition to any shelf of her novels and stories. Enjoy the delicious feast." -- James Reston, author of A Rift in the Earth: Art, Memory, and the Fight for a Vietnam War Memorial
"To find the genius of Bobbie Ann Mason gathered in one big volume is a true delight. There's no writer I am happier to read in huge gulps like this, where I can clearly see the powerful combination of purity (in her spare, clean narrative voice) and mystery (in the surprising complexity of the lives she lets us in on). Patchwork is a treasure." -- Josephine Humphreys, author of Nowhere Else on Earth
"A sturdy introduction to the multifaceted work of Kentucky laureate Mason. Whether story or novel, essay or review, Mason's work is characterized by closely realized detail, sympathy with the players involved, and, usually, sharp but good-natured humor. 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." -- Kirkus Reviews
"All together, Patchwork serves to showcase Mason's broad range and extraordinary talent as a writer." -- Kentucky Living
"Her writing holds up brilliantly over time -- clear, precise and emotionally true." -- Star Tribune
"The Lake District of England had Wordsworth. Concord, Massachusetts, had Thoreau. Western Kentucky has Bobbie Ann Mason, whose writing immortalizes the lovely, grim, and mundane ways of life in her native region. The proof is in Patchwork, which brings together short stories, novel excerpts, nonfiction, and interviews from the past thirty-five years. It's an exhilarating trip through Mason's career." -- Chapter 16
"From the vivid front cover through a closing group of interviews, Patchwork offers new ways of looking at forty years of fiction and nonfiction by the award-winning Kentucky author." -- The Southern Register