Drawing Names by Bobbie Ann Mason, 1982
The magic trick:
Creating a new literary locale
Merry Christmas to all of you wonderful SSMT readers out there!
This story may just be the best gift you get all day. It’s so good.
For all intents and purposes we know this story and we know it well. Read any Lorrie Moore or Ann Beattie story and you can get a pretty good feel for the plight of the square-peg-round-hole divorcee. “Drawing Names” retraces many of these same steps. But no. Not quite. Not quite like that at all.
This is not the economic elite of the east coast.
This is not the intellectual elite of the midwest university life.
And a story’s setting matters. This is rural western Kentucky. These are not the kinds of people we’re accustomed to reading about in literature. Their psychology is not the kind of psychology we’re accustomed to analyzing. And what a relief. It’s wonderful. They’re wonderful.
I’ve been fortunate enough to join my girlfriend for holidays with her family in Greenville, Kentucky – very, very close to where this story is set. So let me personally attest that Mason totally nails it. Her tone, her characterizations. It’s all perfect. This is one of those stories that is so good it leads into unlocking an author’s entire catalogue of work. I can’t wait to dig in. And that’s quite a trick on Mason’s part.
After Carolyn hung up the telephone, her mother said, “I think my Oriental casserole was a failure. I used the wrong kind of mushroom soup. It called for cream of mushroom and I used golden mushroom.”
“Won’t you ever learn, Mom?” cried Carolyn. “You always cook too much. You make such a big deal – ”
Mom said, “What happened with Kent this time?”
“He couldn’t get gas. He forgot the gas stations were closed.”
“Jim and Laura Jean didn’t have any trouble getting gas,” said Peggy, looking up from the game.
“We tanked up yesterday,” said Laura Jean.
“Of course you did,” said Carolyn distractedly. “You always think ahead.”