Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

I am on a book roll! On Wednesday night the library book club, Books on Main, met to discuss Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. Mudbound is one of the books being considered by RARI for 2010. When it comes time to discuss and vote for books, I am going to give this one high marks. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. That is 3 books in a row that I have really, really, really liked. That is unprecedented! Unheard of! Amazing! A book roll! Now that I've said all that I've probably jinxed myself and won't read another great book for the next 6 months. (Gosh, I hope not.)

Mudbound takes place in rural Mississippi in 1946. It tells the story of two families, one white and one black, who are trying to eek out an existence on a hardscrabble farm. The story centers around two young men, Ronsel and Jamie, both soldiers returning to the farm from the war overseas. While serving in Germany, Ronsel was treated as an equal. There was no distinction between the races, even among the German people that he encountered while on leave. This is quite a shock to him, but he soon becomes accustomed to it and he states, "[f]irst time in my life I ever felt like a man first and a black man second." However, it's quite a different story when he returns to rural Mississippi. His reentry into the Jim Crow south is not a smooth one. Jamie also struggles upon his return. Like many returning soldiers he can not escape the horrors of the war. Jamie and Ronsel develop a fragile friendship based on their experiences and this friendship causes ripples of shock, not only through their families, but more ominously throughout the town.

Also central to the story is Jamie's brother Henry and Henry's wife, Laura. Laura is shocked and unhappy when Henry announces that he has bought a farm (without consulting her) and that they will be moving there from Memphis. Laura is a city girl who finds herself living in a rundown shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity. To make matters even worse, Henry's mean-spirited and racist father will be living with them. Tensions continue to rise when Jamie returns from war and moves onto the farm to help Henry.

Mudbound drew me in right from the start with a dramatic opening scene that hooks the reader. Right from the very beginning, Jordan skillfully reveals small seeds of information that leave the reader asking questions and wondering what actions led up to this moment. And that's all within the first three pages. It is hard to believe that this is Jordan's debut novel! Not so hard to believe is that she was awarded the Bellwether Prize for fiction for Mudbound. The intent of the Bellwether Prize "to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships. The prize is awarded to a previously unpublished novel representing excellence in this genre."* As I said, I'm not surprised at all.

Image from Google Images
*Quote from Bellwether Prize website

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