Book Review: Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
What's it About?
Laura leaves behind the city she's always known, and follows her husband Henry to a remote cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta. While Henry's living out his dream, Laura has to struggle to raise two children, run the house and help out as best she can under the critical eye of her bone-idle, racist father-in-law. When the weather turns to rain, the one bridge to escape by becomes swallowed under a rising tide of glutinous mud.
As WWII ends, two soldiers return from the Front. One is Henry's dashing brother, Jamie. The other is the eldest son of the black share-croppers who work on Henry's land. They have survived the war, but will they survive its brutal memories? And will they survive the harsh grind of endless work and brutal poverty which await them now they are home?
Hillary Jordan Talks about Mudbound
About the Author
Mudbound was Hillary Jordan's debut novel. She has a BA in English and Political Science from Wellesley College, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. She spent fifteen years working as an advertising copywriter before starting to write fiction.
An American, Jordan grew up in Dallas and Muskogee, and currently lives in Brooklyn.
In 2006, Mudbound won the Bellwether Prize, and in 2008 it won the NAIBA Fiction Book of the Year, then the Alex Award from the American Library Association in 2009.
Mudbound was adapted into a 2017 Netflix film starring Mary J. Blige and Carey Mulligan.
Jordan is currently working on her third novel, which will be a sequel to Mudbound.
What's to Like?
This novel opens with the hasty burial of a man despised by those who wield the spades. The reader is then taken back in time to learn how this opening scene of misery came to be.
The main characters tell their own parts of the story, each in distinctive voices, each presenting the readers with varying points of view.
It is instinctive to empathise with Laura, used to city life and modern conveniences, who follows her husband to what is little more than a shack in the middle of nowhere so that he can chase his dream of a country life. This is not just a clash between modernity and rough, gruelling labour but also of culture and of educational standards, and of the deeply ingrained racism which permeates this tale.
Husband Henry is so wrapped up in work and his pursuit of his dream that he is oblivious to Laura's unhappiness and to the idleness and destructive malice of his father, who now lives with them.
The reader is given compelling and graphic impressions of the brutality of farming life and of the narrow expectations of the people, of all races, who lived in this area at that time.
The oppression of black people, and the history of segregation and violently imposed cultural assumptions are woven throughout this novel, which also has strong themes of family loyalty, love and quiet desperation for a better life.
Mudbound: the Movie Trailer
What's Not to Like?
I found the characters of Hap and Florence, the black share-croppers who work for Henry and Laura, to be stereotypical and two-dimensional. Surely their lives could have been described with more complexity. Their son Ronsel's rebellion against the Jim Crow laws, after having been cheered in the streets as a hero while still in Europe, could have been used to give more depth of character to both Ronsel and his parents.
And Laura herself - why was she so routinely meek towards her utterly vile father-in-law and seemingly indifferent husband? There's a woman who needs to start saying no. Her children play only a tiny part in the story, which seems an oversight as surely their education and well-being would have been a major concern for Laura? Perhaps she too was a product of her era.
We never really learn why the father-in-law is so objectionable, and so his character could have been more fully formed.
The overall plot of the novel held no surprises, but the narrative flowed smoothly and the phrasing was polished.
The biographical and bibliographical information in this article came from:
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© 2019 Adele Cosgrove-Bray