cover image Spence + Lila

Spence + Lila

Bobbie Ann Mason. HarperCollins Publishers, $12.95 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-06-015911-5

The plus sign in the title beautifully reflects the relationship of the eponymous protagonists in this tender novella, one in the Harper Short Novel series. Mason (In Country) again shows her deep-hearted understanding of the unsophisticated but not simple country folk of her native Kentucky. Over the years of a long, hardworking marriage, Spence and Lila Culpepper have farmed their land and raised three children who, even in the lean years, ""were always well-fed and wore good clothes.'' Now Lila is in the hospital in Paducah, facing first a mastectomy and then an operation on her carotid artery. She must come to terms with the possibility of her death, and Spence with the possibility of life without her. Both are bewildered by the medical jargon and the high-tech diagnostic machines. These are good people, the soul of America. Mason does not sentimentalize them, but they are touching in their pride and sudden vulnerability to the modern world. In contrast to the Culpeppers' devotion to the land, Mason shows the inroads of industrialization: farms replaced by subdivisions, creeks polluted, the Culpeppers' son working in a factory and living in a house whose yard is bare of trees. In portraying these people in authentic termstheir speech patterns are charmingly Southern, but not exaggeratedMason gives them warmth, dignity and a universal appeal. Illustrated. BOMC and QPBC alternates. (June)