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Mudbound Paperback – March 17, 2009
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Some people don't like the end, but I think it made the book a more successful novel. This is an incredibly painful period of American history, and whether white Americans deserve it or not, the glimmer of hope rising from the Mississippi mud was appreciated.
The main storyline about Ronsel, a black soldier just back from WW2 and the relative acceptance he gained while in Europe, only to find that Jim Crow US hadn't changed at all, was very nicely written. Gaining more respect as a person and then having to give it up again was something that I hadn't read much about previously - so it was a fresh perspective for me. None of the black characters are slaves anymore in 1945, but sharecropping and prejudice keep them perilously close to that and their lives are not much improved by their freedom.
The reason I just can't go to 5 stars is that there are too many 'stock' or clichéd characters here -- several of the main characters could have used more balancing - Pappy was 100% evil, Hap just TOO good, etc. Making them more human (a few faults, or a tiny redeeming trait) would have improved this. The other thing that I would have liked would have been to leave out the other sharecroppers dramas - adding them in with the violence and incest took away from the rest of the story, was distracting, and seemed just tossed in to make the farm seem soooo very horrific. Despite those couple negatives, I would definitely recommend this book. With any historical fiction, you always know where the ending is likely to go - and unlike some readers, I liked the touch of hope built into the ending. The main story is so grim, that one needs to think that the future could possibly get better - which does follows the actual history of prejudice and hate lessening in time.
At the forefront of the story is racial tension and its ugliness. Florence and Hap Jackson’s son Ronsel comes home from the horrors of war only to feel the prejudice of his white neighbors in town. Ronsel forms an unlikely friendship with Henry’s brother Jamie, who also has returned from the war with his own demons. The Jacksons also have many conflicts with Henry’s racist father Pappy McAllan, who continually treats the Jacksons with malice and hatred.
The novel also explores infidelity. Laura, although she has married Henry and feels most suited for him, feels strong emotions for Jamie. She feels conflicted about her marriage and the life she lives there on Mudbound.
The term “mudbound” comes to take on a new meaning later in the novel when a terrible event takes place and several characters are forced to make a crucial decision and judgment. In the end, individuals are left with a choice that will have lasting effects.
Jordan’s novel is well-written, and there’s an authentic Southern touch to the novel that makes it thought-provoking and realistic. The many character voices give each key moment an added level of meaning and perspective.
This edition also has an interesting afterward, an interview with the author that sheds more light on influences for the novel.