--Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times
--St. Petersburg Times
--The Washington Post
"Poignant... [Mason] is a nimble storyteller, with a knack for dialogue. She also has an instinctual ability to capture the ambience of home."
--Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Mason writes with quiet authority about that most unfashionable of American subjects, class differences... [A] quiet, gently moving collection."
ď[Mason is] a full-fledged master of the short story.Ē
"Masonís fiction can inspire a yearning for something lost -- whether itís a person, a place or a moment."
--The New York Times Book Review
Kentucky native Nancy Culpepper boldly left home to attend school in Massachusetts, married a Yankee, and raised her son in the Northeast. "One day I was feeding chickens and listening to Hank Williams and the next day I was expected to know what wines went with what," she tells her husband, Jack. Yet no matter where she travels, her rural southern heritage is never far from her thoughts, her habits, and her heart.
Nancy is on a lifelong quest to understand her place in the world. Returning home to the family farm, she searches for photographic evidence of an ancestor bearing her own name. Still in her jeans, she brings home strange ideas and an assertiveness she learned up north.
Always adventurous, Nancy travels far and wide -- searching, seeking. The narrative sweep of her life traverses the turbulent sixties, the Vietnam War, the eighties and the foreboding death of John Lennon, and finally the new millennium -- when a self-assured Nancy finally emerges. These humorous and often touching stories recount her courtship and marriage to Jack, her relationship with her precocious son, and the deep, loving bond between her parents, Spence and Lila Culpepper. Eventually Nancyís marriage is threatened by a cultural divide that plagued her and Jack from the start. But when she inherits the Culpepper family farm and discovers more pieces of her ancestral puzzle, she realizes that her life is assuming its proper shape. Later, standing on a lonely mountain in England, she sees the world from a surprising perspective. Heartfelt and thought-provoking, Nancy Culpepper is a poignant depiction of change and growth in a modern-day heroine.
Excerpt from "The Heirs":
In February 2002, in the attic of her grandmotherís house, Nancy found a packet of letters and a small stick of dynamite in a shoe box.
Nancy was born here at the Culpepper homeplace in 1943, and she had grown up on the farm, but she had not lived there for many years. Now all the older generations of her family were gone, and the family farm had come to her, to be split with her younger brother and sister. Whenever she returned to the farm, she always felt intimate with it, filled with an overpowering love for the familiar contours of the fields and the thick fencerows and the meandering creeks. The farm had shaped the family for generations, as if each individual had been carved by the wash of the creek and the breeze of the heavy oaks. It was the place she had always called her real home, and it had endured. Yet it had changed over time, just as she had herself, and now the farm would pass from her life. She wanted to approach the impending sale to a development consortium with some detachment. She could not live here. Her parents were dead. And the greatest old oak trees had fallen, split by lightning. The barn had burned. The other house, the small wood-frame where she had grown up, had been razed. The smokehouse, the corncrib, and the henhouse disappeared years ago.
In a motel room on the bypass around the small town, Nancy filled the ice bucket with water and set the stick of dynamite in it. The stick, about eight inches long, was rust red, crumbling slightly on the rim. Perhaps it was only a Roman candle, she thought. She remembered fireworks at Christmas when she was a child -- never on the Fourth of July, when the family always stayed home because of holiday death tolls.
Nancy placed the shoe box on the bed, with her laptop and book satchel. She felt comfortable in the anonymity of motels, where she could be alone, uninvolved with her surroundings. She unlaced her hiking boots and slid them off. Settling herself on the bed, with the pillows behind her, she began to examine the contents of the box. She forced herself to contain her eagerness; she wanted to savor the details. She was hoping for family secrets, for clues that would illuminate her own life. Along with the letters was a newspaper clipping, an ad for Detroit Special overalls: "They wear like a pigís nose." In the bottom of the box were a pink self-covered button, several large hairpins, and a small booklet about a corn drill. She flipped through the booklet, recalling how as a teenager she rode on such a drill behind her fatherís tractor, helping him plant corn one spring. She could almost feel the metal seat -- hard, punctuated with holes arranged in a daisy design. Holes to aerate oneís bottom. She remembered sitting there for hours, operating the seed hoppers. A day of labor seemed like a year, and her sunburn got infected.
The letters were tied with a selvedge, which was frayed and yellowing. Tucked beneath the string was a note handwritten on lined tablet paper: "Take care of these as we are saving every scratch of the pen."