Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is a stunning debut novel.
I was absolutely blown away by this book. The cover art captured me first. The stark contrast of the ramshackle house against the bountiful cotton field intrigued me. I wanted to know the story of that house and it's inhabitants.
Laura has resigned herself to life as a spinster when she meets Henry McAllan in 1939. She eventually accepts his proposal of marriage and they settle down to urban life in Memphis, Tennessee. Family upheaval and Henry's desire to own a farm lands them, their two children and Henry's sly, cruel father in rural Mississippi on a cotton farm. There is no electricity, no running water and when the river rises, they are cut off from the town. There are tenant farmers on the land as well, black and white. Racial tensions and long held prejudices run deep in the Mississippi Delta.
Mudbound opens with Henry and his brother Jamie burying their father on the farm. Jordan's descriptions paint tangible pictures. " The soil was so wet from all the rain it was digging into raw meat". Laura's description of the farm also paints a vivid picture. "When it rained, as it often did, the yard turned into a thick gumbo, with the house floating in it like a soggy cracker"
From that opening scene, we relive how Henry and Jamie came to be burying their father. Each character has a voice in the telling of the story. Henry, Jamie, Laura, Florence and Hap - the black tenant farmers on the McAllan farm and Ronsel - their son. Ronsel and Jamie have both just returned home from the war. Both men have been changed by their experiences and form an unlikely friendship. In the Jim Crow south, this is unacceptable and drives the story to it's inevitable conclusion.
I could not put this book down. The characters,their lives, emotions and upheaval are so richly painted. The historical facts of the deep south in the late 1940's are woven into this stunning debut novel. Jordan's writing captured and held me until the last page. I cannot wait to read her next novel.
Mudbound evoked strong emotions in this reader. The past is still happening.
Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize awarded to literature of social change. This founder of this prize is Barbara Kingsolver.