Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Shiloh" (1982)

Read story by Bobbie Ann Mason online.

Bobbie Ann Mason reads like another writer in the second half of the 20th century who was influenced by Raymond Carver. She does with her native Western Kentucky much as Carver did with his native Pacific Northwest. "Shiloh" is about the end of the marriage of Leroy and Norma Jean. It's filled with poignant detail and the routines of busy lives attempting not to deal with important issues. Leroy, a long-haul trucker, has recently been laid up by a serious accident on the job. Now he is afraid to drive again, but he doesn't know how to be useful. He takes up an assortment of hobbies while he convalesces, and eventually decides he wants to build a log cabin by hand for his family, almost as if that's just another hobby. Norma Jean is having none of it. She treats him as if he is going through a phase—isn't he? Her mother, Mabel, also thinks it's a ridiculous idea. She was raised in a log cabin. "It's no picnic, let me tell you," she says, trying to steer him away from the idea. Norma Jean works at the cosmetics counter in a drugstore, and spends a lot of her time exercising, trying to tone her arms. Leroy and Norma Jean had a child many years earlier who died of crib death, and no children since. Mabel wants them to visit the Shiloh battlefield nearby. Mabel went there for her honeymoon and perhaps she thinks it will do their marriage good. They finally go there for a heavily freighted and symbolic visit, the time and place Norma Jean chooses to tell Leroy she is planning to leave him. In this civil war, Leroy represents the union, and Norma Jean is seceding. Neither character is unsympathetic, though both have annoying points. The early '80s is about the time divorce was slipping into widespread acceptance, starting to become just what people did, the way staying together used to be. It's a sad scene. Marriages become the mass victims the way the soldiers were at Shiloh. There are no tears or recriminations when Norma Jean makes her announcement there. There's only a depressing sense of finality—depressing, but not consuming, because life goes on. It's too soon to want for death as the way out. There's little sense anyone in this story has changed or will change by the end. Just sad resignation, squaring shoulders, and forward into the future. It's how we live now, still.

American Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks

1 comment:

  1. "...the routines of busy lives attempting not to deal with important issues." Otherwise known as 'work'?