The navigation of memory
Bobbie Ann Mason became an American sensation with her books Shiloh and In Country. She has returned with a fabulous tale that takes her outside the United States, into France and back a few decades in history to the tumultuous years of World War II in The Girl in the Blue Beret.
Mason’s protagonist, Marshall, must navigate the choppy waters of memory in this riveting, understated novel. Years ago, Marshall was involved in a crash-landing in France, and he almost lost his life along the way. As part of his recuperation process, he was sheltered by a host of courageous French citizens—participants in the anti-Nazi cause. Having survived the war, Marshall enjoyed a fairly luxurious life in the States, flying for a commercial airline and drawing strength from a sturdy (if not very passionate) marriage to his patient wife, Loretta. But, newly widowed, Marshall must decide if he wants to fade quietly into senescence. A part of him longs to start a new life in France, back among the people who helped him so long ago.
Mason’s subtle, gorgeous prose keeps us captivated. She is not the kind of writer who relies on stylistic pyrotechnics, yet you occasionally pause to marvel at how real her fictional world seems. Tiny details lodge in your memory—a group of men spraying beer on a “newly-christened” plane, a small cardboard container of black-market ice cream “smuggled in newspapers and straw.” Her characters’ letters are unforgettable. A Frenchman writes—in choppy English—“I am sending you a little word to ask you what are you doing and to tell you that we are going very well and hope that you are the same since we see you.”
Readers who enjoy a well-told, realistic story will want to get their hands on The Girl in the Blue Beret. It’s a novel for lovers of the rich, fully plausible narratives of Anne Tyler and Mona Simpson. Like these two masters, Mason can say quite a bit about America just by telling one man’s tale.