Mudbound – Book Review

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.

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  1. I agree–Mudbound didn’t really live up to my expectations. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it like I predicted I would. Thanks for linking to my review!

  2. The most poignant part of the story to me was the relationship between the mother and her son. That’s actually the only part I really remember now. Sometimes, and it’s almost wicked of me to say this, I’m tired of the “poor me” story being told to death. Thank you, though, for linking to me as well. xoxo

    • diane on June 11, 2010 at 10:08

    I was somewhat disappointed as well, when it was all said in down it was a bit of a let-down. Had I not enjoyed the writing so much, my rating would have been lower. Desppite this, I would be willing to give Jodan another shot should she release another novel.

    Great review Wendy.

    • Eva on June 11, 2010 at 10:19

    >>Instead, I found myself annoyed with the predictability of the story and the mostly stereotypical characters.

    I felt the same way, so you’re not alone!

  3. I’ve read another review that said pretty much the same thing you did. I may not bother with this one.

  4. Oh, dear. I guess I’m in the minority on this one. I really enjoyed the story and the writing. Thanks for the link-love, though. 🙂

  5. I’ve definitely read the mixed reviews but will probably give this one a try in the future anyway.

    • Teddy on June 11, 2010 at 19:51

    I oved this book. Link to my review

  6. I’m so glad to see the negative review and the comments because I knew it was depressing, although like you, ordinarily I would be drawn to a book that explores themes of identity, racism, and betrayal. So good to get reasons to skip it! :–)

  7. I really enjoyed this book, in large part because of the quality of the writing, and how uncomfortable it could make me. I also read it pretty soon after it came out, however; I wonder how my opinion of it would be different after hearing so much about it?

  8. Lately, the reviews I have been reading about this book have been more negative than the ones I saw when this book first came out. Based on what I have read, I think this book would annoy me for a lot of the same reasons it annoyed you. I do think that the subject matter and issues it presents are interesting, it just sounds like the problem was predictability and poor execution. I think I will probably pass on this one, but I do thank you for your honesty in this review!

    • Wendy on June 16, 2010 at 13:36

    Stephanie: You’re welcome! I was glad to find some reviewers who agreed with me 🙂

    Bellezza: *nods* there were some bright spots in the book – just not enough to get me to rave about it.

    Diane: Thanks for weighing in. I would definitely give Jordan another shot as I don’t think this was a horrible book – just not as great as I’d hoped (I guess my expectations were pretty high).

    Eva: Thanks for the validation!

    Kathy: It’s funny – early reviews were all raves; those I’m seeing now are a little less so.

    Les: You’re welcome – actually, I don’t think you are in the minority…most reviewers seem to love this book

    • Wendy on June 16, 2010 at 13:39

    Kathleen: I would not discourage you from reading it – many loved it.

    Teddy: Thanks for your review – I’ll add it to the list 🙂

    Rhapsody: I was so surprised I didn’t love the book. Sometimes I think it is the mood I was in when I read it.

    Firefly: I think that is an interesting question. I saw nothing by accolades when the book was first released…now the reviews are more subdued.

    Zibilee: You’re welcome – I agree with your thoughts…I think, too, I have been reading some books lately that are just really brilliant…so my “measuring stick” for books is a little harsher than normal lately.

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