Hillary Jordan – Mudbound
82. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan (2008)
Length: 328 pages
Genre: Literary/Historical Fiction
Started: 24 June 2008
Finished: 26 June 2008
Summary: Following World War II, Henry McAllan suddenly decides to move his family to a small farm on the Mississippi Delta. Laura, his wife, is understandably upset at being torn away from her family and the comforts of civilization, and forced to live in a tiny, muddy house with her father-in-law, a racist, vitriolic, mean-spirited old man. When Henry’s younger brother Jamie returns home from the war, Laura’s life regains some of its brightness. However, also coming home from the war is Ronsel Jackson, the son of the McAllan’s black tenants, who has tasted too much of freedom and equality during the war to easily return to the ways of rural 1940s Mississippi. The story starts with Pappy McAllen’s burial, and works backwards to untangle the various threads of betrayal, anger, pain, and hatred that bring the story to an explosive conclusion.
Review: The force and power of this novel, and of Hillary Jordan’s writing, are evident from the very first chapter. As Henry and Jamie struggle to dig a muddy grave for their father, you can feel the dark menace of the storm rolling in… not just the storm in the novel, but the storm of the novel. It’s a powerful image, and sets the tone for the rest of the novel in a few short pages. The rest of the novel flows apace – it’s hard to put down, and it reads quickly, but at the same time, it’s not exactly what I’d call an easy read. Jordan draws her characters and her scenes so vividly and truly that it can be profoundly uncomfortable to read, and to remember that the time she describes is not really so long ago. It’s stunningly good for a debut novel, and I’ll definitely be on the lookout for her next effort. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: This book is affecting and disturbing, in the best and worst kinds of ways. It’s the sort that will stick in your head for a while after you’ve finished with it. Worth reading across the board.
First Line: Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep.