Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mudbound, Hillary Jordan

MudboundHenry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me?

I wasn't expecting much from Mudbound; I picked it up at the airport because I had nothing else to read. But I ended up really loving it. It's an amazing book. "In Jordan's prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband's Mississippi Delta farm--a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family's struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura's brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not--charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion.  The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale." Mudbound was recommended to me by Goodreads, and I have to say, it was a great choice. I'm fond of Southern fiction, and this is a great work of Southern fiction.

Various characters take turns narrating the book. We have Laura, a city woman now living on a country farm with her husband Henry. The title refers to how much mud there is on the farm, and indeed, it is referred to as "Mudbound". Henry also narrates, and so does Jamie, Henry's much younger brother who returns from World War II deeply shaken. Then there's Hap Jackson and his wife Florence, two black sharecroppers, whose lives (and that of their educated son Ronsel) become entangled with the McAllans. Those are all the characters who narrate, I believe. But there's also Henry and Jamie's viciously racist father, who doesn't narrate but is very important. 

The one thing that I didn't like was Laura and Henry's relationship. Laura is afraid to stand up to him, and Henry doesn't seem to care all that much about her. I mean, he does in a large way, but not in the "small every day ways that mean so much to a woman." (pg. 215). But that was probably my only criticism. Other than that the Jacksons sometimes fall into the role of the proverbial downtrodden workers. 

I really loved the sections when Ronsel's experiences in the war are described. Being from Mississippi, he's used to being treated poorly, ,but suddenly in Europe he's lauded as a hero, and treated with no respect to his skin. It's quite a shock when he returns home and again has to use the back door. I loved the stark differences portrayed there. 

I was pleasantly surprised by this thought-provoking work of historical fiction based upon the author's grandmother's experiences, and would highly recommend it. Sometimes, I anticipate a book too much and it falls a bit flat. This time, I wasn't expecting much, and I was utterly amazed. 

Published in 2008, this was Jordan's debut novel, and I look forward to possibly reading more of her work.  

Read Mudbound:
  • if you like Southern fiction
  • if you like historical fiction
  • if you like books dealing with racial issues
324 pages. 
Outstanding Book That Will Stay On My Bookshelf For Rereading (jf I own it)!

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