Author: Hillary Jordan
Publisher: March 17, 2009; Algonquin Books
Rating: 3.5 Bookmarks
Nat’s One-Sentence Synopsis: It’s 1946 in the Mississippi Delta region and life is a trial for the six narrators who tell of their own struggles with internal and external demons as they try to get ahead, get a foothold, get along, or just get by.
Mudbound was recommended to me by Vivienne at Serendipity Teacher, and it was the first book in a long while that captured my focus. This novel was a Bellwether prize winner and embodies the requisites with a strong focus on “conscience, social responsibility, and literary merit”.
Publishers Weekly had this to say:
In 1946, Laura McAllan, a college-educated Memphis schoolteacher, becomes a reluctant farmer’s wife when her husband, Henry, buys a farm on the Mississippi Delta, a farm she aptly nicknames Mudbound. Laura has difficulty adjusting to life without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two children and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous, racist, father-in-law. Her days become easier after Florence, the wife of Hap Jackson, one of their black tenants, becomes more important to Laura as companion than as hired help. Catastrophe is inevitable when two young WWII veterans, Henry’s brother, Jamie, and the Jacksons’ son, Ronsel, arrive, both battling nightmares from horrors they’ve seen, and both unable to bow to Mississippi rules after eye-opening years in Europe.
Mudbound is a well-written novel that examines difficult topics and is wrought with much social and, at times, sexual tension and injustice. Jordan’s characters were diverse, and I felt that their voices were authentic. The book did suffer a bit because some of the characters seemed pigeon-holed and static.
While the patriarch, Pappy, didn’t narrate any chapters, his vitriol and cruelty radiated from his every word and action. His son (and foil), Jamie, brought rays of sunshine into the bleak lives of those living in the dilapidated farmhouse. Jamie is struggling with his own demons after returning from the war but finds common ground with his neighbor, Ronsel Jackson.
Ronsel, the son of black tenants on the McAllan farm, is also a World War II hero–until he arrives back in his hometown, a hotbed of racism and bigotry. Ronsel keeps forgetting his place down in the Delta, and his actions have devastating consequences, of which Jamie will be an unwitting party.
While this wasn’t an uplifting or flawless novel, it is one that has merit and heart. It’s not an easy read and deals with many difficult–and a few superfluous–themes, but I would recommend it to those who are interested in Southern Fiction, books about struggle, or books that detail the reality of life in the South during the time of the Jim Crow laws. Southern Literature, especially when it offers commentary on social issues, is one of my favorite genres.