Review: Mudbound

January 24, 2014 Whitney Review 2 Comments

Review: MudboundMudbound by Hillary Jordan
Published by Algonquin Books on March 4, 2008
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 328
Source: Library

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. As Kingsolver says of Hillary Jordan, "Her characters walked straight out of 1940s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are with me still.

I read Mudbound several years ago for book club. We had gone through a rut of “happy books” which are not to my taste — I prefer a little hardship in my reading material. A guy had recently joined which had me thinking “good, our selections won’t/can’t be gender specific and will be of more substance.” It turns out that he likes happy books. (queue disappointment) I sat next to him at the meeting and saw he had taken notes. Being the nosy person I am I surreptitiously snuck a glance where I saw:

Stupid, Boring, NOTHING HAPPENS!

I was shocked, was he kidding me?

Obviously that last sentence implies that I believe things did happen in Mudbound. Brutal things that I am bursting at the seams to type, but no one likes a tattle tale. Grotesque, heinous, sickening things happen to a perfectly nice family who just happens to be black. As I sit at my keyboard writing this review I was suddenly reminded of Of Mice and Men. The scene that came to mind was of Lenny stroking Curly’s Wife’s hair, Ronsel Jackson, our protagonist does not stroke as hard as Lenny but the consequences are decidedly similar. There are few books I can say this of but the ending of Mudbound literally made me sick to my stomach. the rich detail through out the book moved me that much.

A short brief review I know, but I fear that if I didn’t use restraint that all of the plot would unfold into incoherent drivel. I will simply conclude by saying that something happens.


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