Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Trade Paperback, 339 pages
Trade Paperback, 339 pages
SynopsisMudbound begins with two brothers, Henry and Jamie, racing to dig their father's grave before the rain washes out their attempts, but only one of them has a heavy heart. Going back to the beginning of this story, the narration is passed between two families, including Henry's unhappy wife Laura; and a black family of sharecroppers whose son, Ronsel, has just returned from fighting in WWII on a continent that let him see himself as an equal to the white soldiers. Ronsel and Jamie, who was a pilot during the war, strike up a friendship that blooms out of their shared horrors, an unwelcome sight in their small Southern town. Entrenched in prejudice and misery, it seems unlikely that anyone will find peace with each other or with themselves...
Reason for ReadingI heard about this one on Twitter through @AlgonquinBooks.
Why you should read this bookAll of the characters are great at contributing something unique to Mudbound, with Laura taking the lead as the heart of the novel. Thrust into farm life in her early 30s after a comfortable city upbringing, Laura's longings blind her to some harsh truths about the people around her. The shared narration duties allow for a number of twists and surprises even as we're reaching the end of the book, letting the pieces drop into place for the reader even as some of the characters choose to look away from the full truth. The farm is vividly described in passages that match its beauty against its harshness, becoming almost another character as it pushes and pulls the actions of the people who work the land. Jamie is perhaps the biggest wild card of the bunch, gliding through life on his easy charm even as thoughts of the war seem to be eating him alive. Though Mudbound starts off looking like a man vs. nature tale, the issues of race and racism elevate this to a much more fast-paced and tragic story that will have you whipping through the last half of the book.
Why you should avoid this bookThe race relations are a tough aspect of the novel to read about, but they're written in a way that feels realistic and natural for the era without being preachy about how change is needed. The ending of the novel has a few issues - while everything makes sense as far as the characters and their motivations go, it didn't necessarily have that spark of excitement that comes from something feeling new and original, even if it is well-presented.
Opening ParagraphHenry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, re-formed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony - the old man, getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thought and memory.
When we were in Wimbourne an English gal I never laid eyes on before came up and patted me right on the butt. I asked her what she was doing and she said, 'Checking to see if you have a tail.'
'Why would you think that?' I said.
She said the white GIs had been telling all the Englh girls that Negroes were more monkey than human.
We slept in separate barracks, ate in separate mess halls, shit in separate latrines. We even had us a separate blood supply - God forbid any wounded white boys would end up with Negro blood in their veins.
Even with Florence's help, I often felt overwhelmed: by the work and the heat, the mosquitoes and the mud, and most of all, the brutality of rural life. Like most city people, I'd had a ridiculous, goldenlit idea of the country. I'd pictured rain falling softly upon verdant fields, barefoot boys fishing with thistles danging from their mouths, women quilting in cozy little log cabins while their men smoked corncob pipes on the porch. You have to get closer to the picture to see the wretched shacks scattered throughout those fields, where families clad in ragged flour-sack clothes sleep ten to a room on dirt floors; the hookworm rashes on the boys' feet and the hideous red pellagra scales on their hands and arms; the bruises on the faces of the women, and the rage and helplessness in the eyes of the men.