Pasadena’s selection for the upcoming One City One Story program is Mudbound. This debut novel by Hillary Jordan is set in the Mississippi Delta just after World War II, as two families play out the South’s eternal conflicts over race, land and class. Six main characters alternate in telling the story, which begins with a burial deep in the muck of the Delta. Sometimes you can hear a blues soundtrack playing in the background as the white McAllans and the black Jacksons, with their separate and very unequal worlds, collide.
Jordan captures the voices of her characters, the sultriness of Mississippi, the lure of the land and the hard, unending work of farming. The grinding, unexamined racism—a generations-old blend of violence, malevolence and nonchalance—is as much a part of the landscape as the mud and mosquitoes, and equally nasty. I wished for more insight into the over-noble Jacksons and a slighty more nuanced Pappy (he’s as nasty as a water moccasin, and about as lovable). And the clichéd, white-trash Atwood family may have you longing for Harper Lee or William Faulkner. But Jordan seems to have gotten the pivotal McAllans, inspired by her own family’s tales of an Arkansas farm, just right. Mudbound, while not a perfect novel, takes on serious themes with imagination, heart and gumption, transporting us to a time and place utterly comprehensible through her writing—and too close to home in some ways. It will be a great conversation-starter in the reading and discussion groups throughout town in the spring, when the One City One Story activities begin.
Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan. Available at Vroman’s Bookstore and everywhere in town.