Offerings by Bobbie Ann Mason, 1980
The magic trick:
Piling up references and descriptions to the everyday routines of the country house
The plot summary for “Offerings” on the New Yorker website is pretty funny. After some setup, it closes with: “They eat dinner and Grandmother, inspired by this trip to the country, begins to reminisce about her younger days, on the farm. Mother and daughter walk to the barn and pond to smoke and drive the ducks.”
Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it?
I wish I could say the summary fails to do the story’s plot justice, but, no, it’s remarkably well done. That is exactly what happens in the story. And it’s great.
This is a story for quiet consideration. I’d call it a clash between old and new ways of life except “clash” is far too dramatic. It’s more a subtle disruption.
Sandra has rejected her husband and his move to Louisville. Instead, she lives in the country on a rambling property that she apparently has neither the knowhow nor the will to maintain. But she loves it. Or wants to love it. The story then really just focuses on various descriptions and references to the farm, the animals, and the everyday chores and routines of life on the property. Over and over. Animals here, there and everywhere. In between, there is this plot about the grandmother and mother’s dinner visit, with reminders of the pressures and expectations of regular life intervening. It’s a great back and forth. And that’s quite a trick on Mason’s part.
It’s the cats’ suppertime, and they sing a chorus at Sandra’s feet. She talks to them and gives them chicken broth and Cat Chow. She goes outside to shoo in the ducks for the night, but tonight they will not leave the pond. She will have to return later. If the ducks are not shut in their pen, the fox may kill them, one by one, in a fit – amazed at how easy it is. A bat circles above the barn. The ducks are splashing. A bird Sandra can’t identify calls a mournful good night.
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What about the Red Sea and the polka dot underwear? Seems to me there’s more there—A woman’s story.