Book of the Week: In Country

I’m a lady very much in love with the idea of a book club, but every time I try to join one, we end up just drinking too much wine and gossiping about people we knew in college. I just finished Bobbie Ann Mason’s book, In Countryand it had some thought-provoking ideas in it, so I thought I’d monopolize the conversation with my thoughts, and you can tell me what you thought in the comments if you, too, have read this book.

BAM is a Kentucky author, so I’m pretty excited about her work. I’d read some of her stuff in high school (shout out to Jesse Stuart, whose work we also read), and the cover art jumped at me from Carmichael’s shelves, so I thought I’d read it on my day off. It’s layered and nuanced, but a quick read.

In Country is set in rural western Kentucky in the late 80s and talks about the lingering ramifications of the Vietnam War in small-town America. It follows Emmett, a veteran, Irene, his sister who was widowed by the war, and Sam, Irene’s daughter.  I felt like there were some topical things that still resonate with veterans of the current war, and I really enjoyed BAM’s descriptions of the region.Image

I got pretty into the story and knocked the whole of it out in a few hours. Sam Hughes is a really fleshed-out character, and her fictional hometown of Hopewell reminds me a lot of the towns I’ve been through in the area. I was really interested in Sam and her boyfriend Lonnie; they had radically different feelings about military service (hers, sadness and horror; his, admiration bordering on idolization). It brings about the end of their relationship, but they never really have a conversation about it that comes to anything. It’s a conversation that didn’t exist in 1986 and doesn’t exist now– how do we take care of returning soldiers? What does their service mean, both in country and upon return?

Overall, it’s a great book with evocative language and the nothing-really-happening pacing that rural life can have. The final scenes of the book were haunting (I won’t give them away, and they’re an autobiographical extra from the author’s life), so if you’re feeling bummed out midway through, power through; it’s worth it.

Next week I’m going to read this. Join up.

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