This is a small novel by Bobbie Ann Mason, for me most famous for her short story collection Shiloh. That book contains a tremendously good title story, and several other very good stories. Among those stories are a handful about a woman named Nancy Culpepper who is a kind of stand-in figure for Mason in many of her stories. Like plenty of authors before her she uses this figure to explore different elements of her own life and allows the intimacy and continuity of the character to explore those ideas — John Updike’s Henry Bech, Philip Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman, and Alice Munro’s Rose all come to mind.
Here, though, we get Nancy Culpepper as a side or ancillary character. The protagonists of this novel are Spence and Lila, Nancy’s parents. We find them in the beginning of the novel 40 years into their marriage as they drive to the city to explore treatments for Lila’s recently discovered breast cancer. The novel takes them to the doctor, has them discussing the news and options with their adult daughters, rediscovers or at least narrates their dedication to one another, and looks at love 40 plus years on going into old age. Bobbie Ann Mason would have been about 50 at this time and so it’s easy to imagine her looking at her own parents, their lives, the decisions they made in their life, as well as her future aging as she wrote this novel. The novel is sweet without being saccharine, and small in a lot of ways, but touching.