When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Limning my husband’s fingernails and encrusting the children’s knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown. – from Mudbound, page 11 –
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan takes place in rural Mississippi in the 1940’s. The McAllan family – Laura, Henry and their two young daughters, along with Henry’s racist father Pappy – buy land with a downtrodden farm on it, and try to make a go of farming. The Jacksons, their black sharecroppers, are also trying to be successful at farming and hope to be able to buy land someday. But when Henry’s brother Jamie and the Jackson’s son Ronsel return home emotionally damaged from the war, the two families find themselves in a difficult position. Jamie and Ronsel begin to drift into a prohibited friendship fueled by their common experiences as soldiers, and tensions begin to rise.
Everyone in Mudbound carries the baggage of bigotry and racism. Even Laura, who is meant to be the peacemaker, cannot escape the hatred that dwells in her community.
This was not to say that I thought Florence and her family was equal to me and mine. I called her Florence and she called me Miz McAllan. She and Lilly May didn’t use our outhouse, but did their business in the bushes out back. And when we sat down to the noon meal, the two of them ate outside on the porch. – from Mudbound, page 97 –
Jordan constructs her novel in alternating points of view including those of Jamie, Ronsel, Laura, Henry, Hap (Ronsel’s father), and Florence (Ronsel’s mother). The narratives succeed in delivering a variety of different perspectives about the unfolding events.
I should have loved this novel set in the deep South which explores themes of identity, racism, and betrayal. Instead, I found myself annoyed with the predictability of the story and the mostly stereotypical characters. Pappy, Henry’s hateful father, is so mean and despicable that he comes off as a cardboard character. It comes as no surprise when he is later revealed to be a member of the KKK. Laura’s efforts to stand up to her controlling husband seems contrived by the author to insert a strong female into the mix. Even Jamie, who is one of the more likable characters in the book, is typecast as the stereoptypical damaged soldier who finds solace in alcohol, and of course is the one member of his family who defies the rigid views of his community.
Despite these flaws, Mudbound is a novel whose pages turn effortlessly. It is a familiar story, a bit like watching a train wreck, but I found I wanted to see it unfold if only to see if I had correctly figured out the plot (I did). I found myself a bit horrified by the graphic ending which seemed to be the point. In fact, Jordan does not spare the reader any of the raw hate which surrounded persecution of blacks in the south during this time in history. It is disturbing and uncomfortable.
This novel has captured its share of accolades, including the 2006 Bellwether Prize for fiction, even though it didn’t blow me away. Readers who love Southern fiction, might give this one a try…especially since I seem to be in the minority of those readers who didn’t love the book.
Get some other opinions:
- The Boston Bibliophile
- Reviews by Lola’s Blog
- Medieval Bookworm
- Firefly’s Book Blog
- Lesley’s Book Nook
- Books and Cooks
- The Literate Housewife
- A Bookworm’s World
- Dolce Belleza
- An Adventure in Reading
- Farm Lane Books
- 1 More Chapter
- Bibliophile By the Sea
- So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Have you reviewed this book? Leave me a link and I’ll add you to the list above.