I’ve been reading 20th century American novels like crazy this summer, but none has appealed to me or been quite as intriguing as Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country.
Sam (short for Samantha) Hughes is a high school graduate in 1984. She is deciding what to do with her life in rural Kentucky. She lives with her uncle Emmett, who suffers from PTSD from his stint in Vietnam. Her father died in Vietnam before she was born, and she spends the novel searching for answers–the why and how of Vietnam, and the after-effects on its survivors. She also immerses herself in consumer culture, trying to find a place for herself in the 1980s, both as a citizen and a young woman. More than a mere coming-of-age tale, this novel encompasses the collective struggle to understand a war that impacted a generation and culture in ways that we are still attempting to define.
I’d recommend this novel, because it challenges the white male perspective we usually associate with Vietnam. Mason provides an interesting and relatable narrative voice that made reading the book a pleasurable experience. Also, the commentary on culture was an interesting counterpoint to the cannibalistic consumption present in American Psycho, or the ambivalence I found clouding White Noise. This is a novel I would teach, and one that I think students will find moving and approachable.