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Clear Springs: A Memoir

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A multilayered narrative of three generations -- Bobbie Ann Mason, her parents and grandparents -- Clear Springs gracefully interlaces several different lives, decades, and locales, moving from the industrious life on a Kentucky farm to travels around the South with Mason as president of the Hilltoppers Fan Club; from the hippie lifestyle of the 1960s New York counterculture to the shock-therapy ward of a mental institution; from a farmhouse to the set of a Hollywood movie; from pop music concerts to a small ...
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1999 Hard cover First edition. Illustrated. New in fine dust jacket. Sewn binding. Cloth over boards. With dust jacket. 298 p. Contains: Illustrations. Audience: General/trade.

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Clear Springs: A Memoir

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Overview

A multilayered narrative of three generations -- Bobbie Ann Mason, her parents and grandparents -- Clear Springs gracefully interlaces several different lives, decades, and locales, moving from the industrious life on a Kentucky farm to travels around the South with Mason as president of the Hilltoppers Fan Club; from the hippie lifestyle of the 1960s New York counterculture to the shock-therapy ward of a mental institution; from a farmhouse to the set of a Hollywood movie; from pop music concerts to a small rustic schoolhouse. Clear Springs depicts the changes that have come to family, to women, and to heartland America in the twentieth century, as well as to Bobbie Ann Mason herself. When the movie of Mason's bestselling novel In Country is filmed near Clear Springs, it brings the first limousines to town, even as it brings out once again the wisdom and values of Mason's remarkable parents. Her mother, especially, stands at the center of this book. Mason's journey leads her to a recognition of the drama and significance of her mother's life and to a new understanding of heritage, place, and family roots.
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Editorial Reviews

Melanie Rehak

Into this maudlin era of tell-all autobiography about adultery, incest and ill-fated love comes Bobbie Ann Mason's Clear Springs, a memoir that heartily resurrects a family type long gone from nonfiction: one with roots. Mason's parents and paternal grandparents -- who lived in the same house for many years, just one of the problematic realities that save her tale from turning into the idyll it might have been under the eye of a less honest writer -- were farmers in Kentucky, and she spent her childhood watching them struggle with the contingencies of weather and crop failure. Even as a girl, Mason saw far beyond the limits of the cornfields and berry bushes that surrounded her, and she was encouraged in her worldly ways by a mother who believed in her abilities and wanted to save her from continuing the family tradition of working too hard just to survive.

Christy Mason, largely deprived of opportunity yet ever aware of its power, instilled a strong-willed independence in her child from the very start. Consider the anecdote about little Bobbie Ann's first-grade pageant. Assigned the role of a daffodil, she prevailed upon her mother to sew her a costume:

"This won't do," she said doubtfully when she spread the length of crinkly crepe paper next to me. "Yellow's not your color."

Mama drove to school and informed Miss Christella that yellow was not my color. Blue was my color, because of my eyes ... "She has to be a bluebell," Mama said firmly. "Bobbie's not a March flower."

Mama exchanged the yellow crepe paper for blue and I became a bluebell.

For in the end, although this is certainly a story about family, it is more a story about women and social evolution. As modernity tore through the Kentucky countryside in the '50s, leaving the teenage Mason with an insatiable appetite for store-bought food and drive-in movies, women of her grandmother's generation refused to participate, while those of her mother's generation took what they could get but knew that ultimately progress would change their children's lives, not their own.

Luckily, however, for readers of Mason's work, which draws lyrically on her Kentucky upbringing, the pull of family and homeland can be difficult to elude, even when one strikes out for the city intending to do precisely that. In Mason's case, the city was New York, where she wrote for a TV fan magazine and lived in a seedy hotel in Times Square when she moved there in 1962. She went because, as she puts it, "It merely seemed inevitable. New York had burned its authority into my brain long ago."

But she lasted only a year before moving upstate, her first stop on the way back home to Kentucky, and during that short time it became clear where her heart lay. Not many young women living in a supposedly thrilling metropolis and destined for literary success would be able to recognize the sum of their youthful experience with the wisdom and simplicity of Bobbie Ann Mason: "I was walking up Sixth Avenue in midtown among lighted skyscrapers, just about dark. It was milking time, I thought." -- Salon

Michiko Kakutani
...[P]owerful in its depiction of the lives of the author's relatives....For Ms. Mason's fansthe primary interest...may lie in its revelation of just how rooted the themes of her fiction remain in the facts of her own life...."I'm aware that something larger than myselflarger than our familyis ending here," Ms. Mason writes. "A way of life with a long continuitytracing back to the beginnings of this countryis coming to an end." —The New York Times
Josephine Humphreys
In the process of taking a close look at her own beginnings, Mason gets to the heart of a whole generation. A purely nostalgic thrill...the memories stirred up will be intense. —The New York Times Book Review
NY Review of Books
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.
Newsday
Thoroughly engaging, brimming with home truths...and in touch with what's important.
Library Journal
Best known for her novel In Country (LJ 10/1/85), Mason here delves into her family background and childhood as a way of finding patterns and connectedness in life. She recalls the experience of growing up on a farm in Clear Springs, KY, in the 1940s and 1950s, occasionally alluding to the general prejudices against "country people" vs. city dwellers. The most poignant aspect of this memoir is the material Mason elicits from family members, especially her mother, who responds at times with "Oh, you're straining my little watery brain!" Mason concludes the memoir, which centers around her mother (orphaned at age four), with a memorable chapter about an experience that ultimately demonstrates the persistence, endurance, and perseverance of her mother even after 77 years. Mason proudly and vividly portrays incidents and individuals in a way that makes the reader feel like a witness and an acquaintance.--Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, NJ Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Josephine Humphreys
In the process of taking a close look at her own beginnings, Mason gets to the heart of a whole generation. A purely nostalgic thrill...the memories stirred up will be intense.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
An appreciative but often bittersweet meditation on southern family and cultural change by the author In Country (1985) and Feather Crowns (1993). Like many small-town girls, Mason fled her hometown of Clear Springs, Ky., for more exciting locales—the University of Kentucky, New York City, New England—only to be inexorably drawn back. The narrative alternates between remembrance and present-tense visits to the farm where she was raised. Telling her own story, Mason is by turns vivid (as when she writes of her idyllic post-WWII childhood) and vague (describing her troubled young adulthood in the 1960s she airily declares, "The counterculture saved me" without clearly explaining how). Her early years were typically writerly and not terribly compelling: she was ostracized at school for her precocious love of books; early literary influences included Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and Little Women. Her adventures as fan club president for the popular crooners called the Hilltoppers do add some needed spice. But the fiction writer seems far more engaged when divining the motivations and character of family, particularly her paternal grandmother and mother, whose stories are inextricably linked. Mother Chris is a resilient, hardworking woman whose life is nevertheless subjugated to the demands of her husband and mother-in-law. Chris's bleak childhood as an orphan raised (but not loved) by relatives who were caretakers at the county poorhouse provides Mason a context for her own privileged upbringing and eventual rebellion. Grandmother Ethel, also hardworking but an inflexible matriarch prone to nervous breakdowns, dominates the family and provides a link to the disappearinglifestyle that fascinates Mason. As she struggles to extract her family's history from their silence and emotional reserve, she learns about herself and makes a valuable connection between the family's evolution and the larger cultural transformation of the South. A few dull stretches aside, this is a sharp, perceptive family memoir. Lucky is the clan who has a writer of Mason's caliber to preserve and interpret its history. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679449256
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/20/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 298
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.15 (d)

Meet the Author

Bobbie Ann Mason has won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Book Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award. Her books include Spence   Lila and Feather Crowns. She lives in Kentucky with her husband.
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Read an Excerpt

My grandmother baked cookies, but she didn't believe in eating them fresh from the oven. She stored them in her cookie jar for a day or two before she would let me have any. 'Wait till they come in order,' Granny would say. The crisp cookies softened in their ceramic cell—their snug humidor—acquiring more flavor, ripening both in texture and in my imagination.
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Reading Group Guide

About the Book:This discussion guide will assist readers in exploring Clear Springs. We hope that it will help create bonds not only between the book and the reader, but also among the members of the group. In your support of this book, please feel free to copy and distribute this guide to best facilitate your program. Thank you.Discussion Questions: Question: "This is my story," say many readers of Bobbie Ann Mason's Clear Springs. To what extent do you see in Bobbie Ann Mason's journey reflections of your own experiences growing up and moving away?

Question: What makes a person become a writer, a reader? What factors in childhood and adolescence signal that a young person will become one whose life is lived in a happy relationship with books? Bobbie Ann Mason describes feeling like a misfit, in living more in books than reality (p. 82), and yet many readers of Clear Springs have said they felt like misfits too. Do you think this goes along with childhood and adolescence? With becoming an artist, a writer, a reader?

Question: At the heart of Clear Springs is the story of three generations of women; and especially, a mother/daughter story. Do you think the difficulties Bobbie Ann Mason's mother faced as a girl contributed to her efforts to give Bobbie Ann freedom to be herself, and to exercise her "energetic reach" (p. 97)? Do you think this is typical or atypical of the mother/daughter dynamic?

Question: The decades of the '40s, '50s, and '60s in America are woven through the life Mason describes. Do you think this was an especially difficult time to come of age? or does a young person always have to move on, and away?

Question: As Bobbie Ann Mason's mother grows older and faces illness, Bobbie Ann says, "I want her to tell me now all the things I wouldn't let her teach me in the past." Have you ever experienced this feeling? Discuss.

Question: Readers have commented that the origins of characters and themes in Bobbie Ann Mason's fiction (In Country, Spence + Lila, for example) figure in this memoir. Also the distinctive "Kentucky" way of thinking, of stating things. Discuss.

Question: Attitudes toward work and the roles of food figure prominently in the family life Mason describes, but many readers have said these attitudes prevail in locales far from the Kentucky farm culture. One prominent writer said, "so many things in it seemed to come straight out of my life.... But I think I'd love the book even if I'd grown up on Park Avenue." Do you think these cultural traditions say something about what type of people they are (a value in simplicity, conformity, being direct)?
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