Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

April 26, 2010
Book discussion leader: Edna Ritzenberg

 Reserve your copy of Mudbound on ALISCat

from the Novelist Database:

Booklist Review: /*Starred Review*/ "When I think of the farm, I think of mud," says Laura, the main character in this sophisticated, complex first novel. Jordan sets her narrative in the rural Mississippi Delta in the immediate post—World War II period. Thematically, the novel charts the evolution of a wifely role—the evolution of Laura's new life—when she marries at a relatively late age and moves from her comfortable existence in Memphis (her father was a professor and she an English teacher in a private school) to a rough Delta farm when her new husband decides to forgo his engineering profession to live out his dream of cultivating the soil. The narrative is told in alternating first-person accounts (each voice rendered distinctive and authentic to the character), as Laura, her plain and steady husband, her dashing brother-in-law, and other individuals now significant in Laura's new life (one of whom is the returned GI-son of their black tenant farmer) tell their sides of the devolving events in Laura and her husband's move to this remote and rigid environment. In addition to the material deprivation Laura must endure, racism in the area is full-blown and horrible, most apparent in the face of her father-in-law, who has come to live with Laura and her husband. When her brother-in-law returns from his postwar wanderings about Europe, at first he brings a bright, new light to shine on Laura. She falls in love with him, but, ultimately, the light illuminates only ugliness. -- Hooper, Brad (Reviewed 11-15-2007) (Booklist, vol 104, number 6, p30)

Publishers Weekly Review: Jordan's beautiful debut (winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for literature of social responsibility) carries echoes of As I Lay Dying , complete with shifts in narrative voice, a body needing burial, flood and more. In 1946, Laura McAllan, a college-educated Memphis schoolteacher, becomes a reluctant farmer's wife when her husband, Henry, buys a farm on the Mississippi Delta, a farm she aptly nicknames Mudbound. Laura has difficulty adjusting to life without electricity, indoor plumbing, readily accessible medical care for her two children and, worst of all, life with her live-in misogynous, racist, father-in-law. Her days become easier after Florence, the wife of Hap Jackson, one of their black tenants, becomes more important to Laura as companion than as hired help. Catastrophe is inevitable when two young WWII veterans, Henry's brother, Jamie, and the Jacksons' son, Ronsel, arrive, both battling nightmares from horrors they've seen, and both unable to bow to Mississippi rules after eye-opening years in Europe. Jordan convincingly inhabits each of her narrators, though some descriptive passages can be overly florid, and the denouement is a bit maudlin. But these are minor blemishes on a superbly rendered depiction of the fury and terror wrought by racism. (Mar.) --Staff (Reviewed November 5, 2007) (Publishers Weekly, vol 254, issue 44, p40)

Library Journal Review: /* Starred Review */ Jordan's poignant and moving debut novel, winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize, takes on social injustice in the postwar Mississippi Delta. Here, two families, the landowning McAllans and their black sharecroppers, the Jacksons, struggle with the mores of the Jim Crow South. Six distinctive voices narrate the complex family stories that include the faltering marriage of Laura and Henry McAllan, the mean-spirited family patriarch and his white-robed followers, and returning war heroes Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson. In every respect, the powerful pull of the land dominates their lives. Henry leaves a secure job with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to buy their farm, never noticing that the refined and genteel Laura dreams of escaping the pervasive mud and dreary conditions of farm life. Ronsel, encouraged by his war-hero status as a tank commander, wants to break away from the past and head North to a better future, while his parents, knowing no other life but farming, struggle to buy their own land. Jordan faultlessly portrays the values of the 1940s as she builds to a stunning conclusion. Highly recommended for all public libraries.--Donna Bettencourt (Reviewed December 15, 2007) (Library Journal, vol 132, issue 20, p100)

Kirkus Reviews:   Family bonds are twisted and broken in Jordan's meditation on the fallen South.Debut novelist Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for this disquieting reflection on rural America, told from multiple perspectives. After steadfastly guarding her virginity for three decades, cosmopolitan Memphis schoolmarm Laura Chappell agrees to marry a rigid suitor named Henry McAllan, and in 1940 they have their first child. At the end of World War II, Henry drags his bride, their now expanded brood and his sadistic Pappy off to a vile, primitive farm in the backwaters of Mississippi that she names "Mudbound.". Promised an antebellum plantation, Laura finds that Henry has been fleeced and her family is soon living in a bleak, weather-beaten farmhouse lacking running water and electricity. Resigned to an uncomfortable truce, the McAllans stubbornly and meagerly carve out a living on the unforgiving Delta. Their unsteady marriage becomes more complicated with the arrival of Henry's enigmatic brother Jamie, plagued by his father's wrath, a drinking problem and the guilt of razing Europe as a bomber pilot. Adding his voice to the narrative is Ronsel Jackson, the son of one of the farm's tenants, whose heroism as a tank soldier stands for naught against the racism of the hard-drinking, deeply bigoted community. Punctuated by an illicit affair, a gruesome hate crime and finally a quiet, just murder in the night, the bookimparts misery upon the wicked—but the innocent suffer as well. "Sometimes it's necessary to do wrong," claims Jamie McAllan in the book's equivocal denouement. "Sometimes it's the only way to make things right."The perils of country living are brought to light in a confidently executed novel. (Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2008)

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