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Friday, January 15, 2010

Mudbound Discussion

by Hillary Jordan

category: literary fiction

Mudbound is the name of a farm, so dubbed by the wife who'd been reluctant to move there. When the rains come, the farm becomes isolated from the nearest town. That fact sets an entire stream of events into motion that inevitably lead to despair, deceit, pain, resolution, self-discovery and love.
Land sickness is described as the disease the farmer feels who is tied to his land, inextricably in love with it. So much so, that those infected with land disease often go blind to the effects the land exerts on those they love around them. You will not find any bucolic imagery of farming here. The land is hard, and the people on it often become hard with it. In a town in Mississippi just after the second world war, when racial tensions still ran higher than any flag flown, Henry and his wife Laura, buy Mudbound. Rather, Henry buys and as a dutiful wife she follows, however reticently.
Never having defied her husband, she finds herself thrown into situations that test her inner strength and her beliefs about deep-seated rules of racial boundaries and her deep-seated sense of right and wrong. She begins to make demands of her husband, standing up for people in defiance of his will. Strain on the marriage inevitably ensues. Add a cruel old man as the father and father-in-law into the mix and the tension thickens to pudding consistency. Then Henry's brother moves in with his ghosts of the war, and Laura begins to feel a passionate side of herself she never knew. Henry and Laura's relationships to all these people and the tenants on their farm, including a black family who become substantially entwined with their daily life, are the whirlwind this novel's plot revolves around.

This book does not indulge in flowery language. It is simple and direct, infused with its own style of elegance. Jordan's choice to write from each character's point of view chapter to chapter, heading them with only the name of the person speaking seems daring yet, I think, the only satisfactory way to tell this story. Any one person's point of view would never convey the widely varied ideals and perceptions that are essential to understanding the full story, and a narrative voice could never be personal enough to dig into the emotion of it. Throughout the novel I felt a sense of looming danger, yet it never felt depressing or too frightening to continue. There was a longing for things to go right when I knew there was no way they truly could. Jordan skillfully tapped into my emotions and drug me along like a fish on a hook. I found it hard to draw myself away from the story, even after forcing myself to put the book down. I can't say the ending surprised me all that much, but the range of feelings that I wrangled through to get there did.

I would definitely recommend this book. Not a difficult read, but certainly a worthy one.

Now, your turn. What did you like or dislike about this book? Or both? What are your post reading impressions? Did it stay with you and why?

1 comment:

de said...

Great review! I went back to Michelle Kerns’ guide to book reviews for assistance on this, and it didn’t help me at all, so I’ll just wing it.

I thought this book was wonderful. I read it in three sittings because it was so vivid. Naturally, I was more than halfway through it when I realized I should probably jot down some of the passages that moved me most, so I failed to do that; however, there were probably at least a half-dozen lines that were as satisfying as a cold drink on a hot day.

I paid so little attention to the book initially that I didn’t know if the writer was a man or a woman until I got to the second chapter, in which Laura is the narrator. Then I knew. All the characters are powerful and believable, but Laura was complete. This book would definitely translate well as a film.

The story definitely stayed with me. Each of these characters had a life beyond the pages for me. I wonder if Pappy hadn't been around to jeer at his sons if Henry would eventually have leaned toward Laura's softer nature. Although I identified with Henry least, I enjoyed the chapters written from his POV because they were so insightful.

Although I live in a New England state, where prejudice against Blacks is less ingrained than in the and less socially acceptable than in the South, I still marvel when I read a passage such as the one in which Ronsel describes his experience in Europe, where people did viewed him as a man first and a Black man second. I wonder if this country can ever move beyond our past. The stylistic ending did not bother me, though it has been described as maudlin.

I had never heard of the Bellwether prize, and I’m looking forward to checking out other winning books.

Finally, I spent a little time drooling with envy over Hillary’s writing blog:

I will look for this author's next book.