How did we get here?
That’s the central question as Hillary Jordan’s novel Mudbound opens with a burial scene: two brothers struggling against the wet, sucking Mississippi delta mud to bury their father Pappy. It could be a tearful scene, but it isn’t. Right away, through Jordan’s skillful introduction of middle-aged, dependable Henry; his practical but “ethereal” wife Laura; and Henry’s high-strung younger brother, Jamie—who also narrates the first chapter—we know that Pappy was not a beloved patriarch. We also learn that Pappy did not die of natural causes.
So, how did he die?
Through quick, compelling chapters told in alternating first-person, Jordan rewinds the clock, detailing the unwise decisions, missed opportunities, and societal ugliness that lead to heartbreaking violence in the post-WWII South. By letting us into the heads of Henry, Jamie, and Laura, and Henry’s black sharecroppers—formidable Florence, her husband Hap, and their son Ronsel, a soldier who fought in the war—the author gives us a glimpse of what it was like to live in this time period. It was a time and place where most people truly were “bound,” not only when heavy rain turned all the rich farmland into mud, but by racism, sexism, poverty, and misplaced duty.
Despite the novel’s heavy topics, the plot moves at a good pace to a satisfying ending, freeing readers from getting bogged down themselves in a truly depressing time in our history (unlike The Underground Railroad, for example, which was also beautifully written but a trial to finish). With characters that are both flawed and good, strong and weak, Jordan challenges us to remember: how did we get here?
My Rating: 5 Stars
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