Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Mudbound
, her first novel. The prize was founded by Barbara Kingsolver to reward books of conscience, social responsibility, and literary merit. In addition to meeting all of the above qualifications, Jordan has written a story filled with characters as real and compelling as anyone we know.
It is 1946 in the Mississippi Delta, where Memphis-bred Laura McAllan is struggling to adjust to farm life, rear her daughters with a modicum of manners and gentility, and be the wife her land-loving husband, Henry, wants her to be. It is an uphill battle every day. Things started badly when Henry's trusting nature resulted in the family being done out of a nice house in town, thus relegating them to a shack on their property. In addition, Henry's father, Pappy, a sour, mean-spirited devil of a man, moves in with them.
The real heart of the story, however, is the friendship between Jamie, Henry's too-charming brother, and Ronsel Jackson, son of sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm. They have both returned from the war changed men: Jamie has developed a deep love for alcohol and has recurring nightmares; Ronsel, after fighting valiantly for his country and being seen as a man by the world outside the South, is now back to being just another black "boy."
Told in alternating chapters by Laura, Henry, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents, Florence and Hap, the story unfolds with a chilling inevitability. Jordan's writing and perfect control of the material lift it from being another "ain't-it-awful" tale to a heart-rending story of deep, mindless prejudice and cruelty. This eminently readable and enjoyable story is a worthy recipient of Kingsolver's prize and others as well. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Jordan's beautiful debut (winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for literature of social responsibility) carries echoes of As I Lay Dying
, complete with shifts in narrative voice, a body needing burial, flood and more. 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. Jordan convincingly inhabits each of her narrators, though some descriptive passages can be overly florid, and the denouement is a bit maudlin. But these are minor blemishes on a superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism. (Mar.)
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Winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize (2006), which recognizes an unpublished manuscript promoting social responsibility, Jordan’s debut novel exposes the racism and sexism of the Jim Crow South. Most critics embraced this topic, even while recognizing its heavy-handedness; the Washington Post
noted that “the book doesn’t challenge our prejudices so much as give us the easy satisfaction of feeling superior to these evil Southerners.” Reviewers disagreed somewhat on the complexity of character development, with a few complaining of unclear motives. They agreed, however, on the power of Jordan’s plain, earthy writing (reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s prose, to some) and the compelling plot. If it’s too early to say that “after just one book … here’s a voice that will echo for years to come,” as the San Antonio Express-News
claims, Jordan is a new author worth watching.Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
An "impressive first novel . . . The novel's inevitable closing scenes are painfully violent, utterly memorable and surprisingly rich in cultural metaphor and well-wrought literary ploy. . . . Jordan is an author to watch."-- Rocky Mountain News
"A compelling family tragedy, a confluence of romantic attraction and racial hatred that eventually falls like an avalanche...The last third of the book is downright breathless." -The Washington Post Book World
"A real pageturner—a tangle of history, tragedy and romance powered by guilt, moral indignation and a near chorus of unstoppable voices. Any reader will appreciate the overlap of forbidden loves and deadly secrets."— Stewart O'Nan
From the Inside Flap
A gripping and exquisitely rendered story of forbidden love, betrayal, and murder, set against the brutality of the Jim Crow South.
When Henry McAllan moves his city-bred wife, Laura, to a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta in 1946, she finds herself in a place both foreign and frightening. Laura does not share Henry's love of rural life, and she struggles to raise their two young children in an isolated shotgun shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity, all the while under the eye of her hateful, racist father-in-law. When it rains, the waters rise up and swallow the bridge to town, stranding the family in a sea of mud.
As the McAllans are being tested in every way, two celebrated soldiers of World War II return home to help work the farm. Jamie McAllan is everything his older brother Henry is not: charming, handsome, and sensitive to Laura's plight, but also haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, comes home from fighting the Nazis with the shine of a war hero, only to face far more personal—and dangerous—battles against the ingrained bigotry of his own countrymen. It is the unlikely friendship of these two brothers-in-arms, and the passions they arouse in others, that drive this powerful debut novel. Mudbound
reveals how everyone becomes a player in a tragedy on the grandest scale, even as they strive for love and honor.
Jordan's indelible portrayal of two families caught up in the blind hatred of a small Southern town earned the prestigious Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded biennially to a first literary novel that addresses issues of social injustice.
From the Back Cover
This is storytelling at the height of its powers: the ache of wrongs not yet made right, the fierce attendance of history made as real as rain, as true as this minute. Hillary Jordan writes with the force of a Delta storm. Barbara Kingsolver
About the Author
Hillary Jordan’s first novel, Mudbound, was the winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for fiction and an Alex Award from the American Library Association. It was named the NAIBA Fiction Book of the Year and one of the Top Ten Debut Novels of the Decade by Paste magazine. Jordan grew up in Dallas, Texas, and Muskogee, Oklahoma. She lives in New York City. Find her online at www.hillaryjordan.com.