ff the beaten path There are still places in America where one can get lost on country roads and meet people whose families have lived on the land for generations. Bobbie Ann Mason writes about these places and people in her new collection of short stories, Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail. The award-winning author of In Country, Shiloh and Other Stories and Clear Springs now gives us a group of tales about life in the new South, filled with memorable characters going about their daily activities. What makes these stories masterful is that while Mason creates a distinctive place and ambience, the rich inner workings of the individuals are only hinted at, glimpsed around the next bend in the road. Human nature in all its surprising mystery is described in an eloquently hypnotic voice that, without fail, makes us wish there was more of each story to be read.

Underlying many of the narratives is a sense of sadness, the realization that the world is not always what one hopes it will be. Often, too, the characters seem helpless against the inertia of their lives and isolated from the ones they love. In "Tunica," Liz, a stubborn girl with a weakness for gambling also has a weakness for her ex-con husband. Though she knows he is wrong for her and can identify the familiar patterns of their dysfunctional relationship, she is swept along by the tide of his personality. "Thunder Snow" introduces us to Boogie, the personification of good old boy, who struggles with his wife's independent nature and refusal to talk about her experiences in the Persian Gulf War. With Zigzagging Down a Wild Trail, Bobbie Ann Mason has produced another collection of stories that reveals the transitions we all experience, whether we travel the world or circle the same small patch of land. These powerful stories stick in the memory like the sight of a loved one's face upon return from a long journey or the smell of morning coffee, astonishing in their ability to comfort and settle the spirit.

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