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Clear Springs: A Memoir
     

Clear Springs: A Memoir

5.0 3
by Bobbie Ann Mason
 

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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

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.

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.
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)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679449256
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/20/1999
Edition description:
1 ED
Pages:
298
Product dimensions:
6.48(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.15(d)

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.

What People are Saying About This

Alice Munro
To see so clearly the plain wonders of life you must escape but not deny — that's a glorious thing to do.

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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Clear Springs 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kentucky people are the most compelling souls on this eatth. They teach us so much, for they know the eatth bubbling up between their toes. Great book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
wish there was more books that related to growing up in ky
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿ I didn¿t want to be country anymore¿ -Clear Springs. Bobbie Ann Mason¿s book Shiloh, and other stories earned the Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award for fantastic works of fiction. Her memoir Clear Springs is her story about her growing up in Kentucky as a country girl who wanted more than a country life. She speaks about her family and their traditions and the struggles that people have to go through to hold on to these things, and portrays the worry you feel when you hear of the possibility that you might be losing everything you¿ve ever known because of change. She also shares the story of three generations of women: Bobbie, her mother, and her grandmother, from Bobbie¿s point of view. It shows Bobbie¿s struggles to find what she really wanted to do with her life as she moved ¿Up North¿, betraying the heritage of a farmer¿s daughter and going out to see the world. It tells about the suffering her mother faced, who would have probably left for the big city if she hadn¿t married early. And it tells about her grandmother, stuck to tradition, cautious, and who despised change. This book shows that Bobbie Ann Mason wasn¿t just an author, a shadow of a being without a past, just a being that wrote for whatever reason. Bobbie Ann Mason was a person with feelings and dreams and doubts, just like all of us. Her tale has pain, and sadness, and loss, as well as the triumph and happy moments. It captures that urge that every young person has, when they want to just leave the nest behind and go out and see the world for themselves that feeling of curiosity as to how far we can go and what we can accomplish in our lives. Something I¿ve noticed most adults lose at a certain age. Her memories of childhood are vivid and detailed. Thus, like the fiction she writes, her story is moving and real: something we can all relate to, no matter what age we are. I know that anyone who has felt that they wanted more in their lives than what they have, may it be to travel, or to have more materialistic things, or, to just have a different family, will love this book. I know I did, and I can tell you, I will definitely read it again.