I read this collection of stories in college for a Southern Literature class my senior year. I loved it then, and rereading it now, I still love it, but it’s definitely more poignant and less funny as I recall it, but it’s still very good.
The stories here, and there’s a lot of them for a short collection involve marriages and families living mostly in and around Kentucky in the 1970s. These marriages are often strained or have taken on a kind of weight that wasn’t present in their origin and the new form is being questioned by at least one (usually the wife) of the people in them. In the opening story, “Shiloh” the marriage turns into a kind of showdown as the wife, now starting to lift weights as a kind of unconscious escape plan, is dealing with a husband ostensibly on disability, but a husband that has decided no longer to work. As a way to “recharge” their marriage the mother in law insists on a trip to the Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee because it’s a place she has always wanted to visit. And that kind of forced enjoyment of someone else’ desires is perfect little gem of what an unfulfilling marriage might look like. And so the trip happens.
In other stories, a woman cradles the secret of a growing tumor in her body from the people around her as a kind of extension of herself she’s not yet ready to allow others in on.
In another, a woman has brought an outsider (a non-Kentuckian) to a holiday dinner that is fueled entirely on whiskey it seems.
In another, the dog the husband brought to the marriage is on his last legs (literally, though, he’s not even on his legs because the story is titled “Lying Doggo”) and Nancy Culpepper (who is the protagonist of two stories here and several more from Bobbie Ann Mason later) worries that despite their having a kid together, the dog’s impending death will end their marriage.
It’s a very good collection that reads so good together and feels 1980s in the best of ways.