Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

May 2, 2013

walking-on-mud-caused-by-underground-water-that-leaked-to-the-surface-during-an-earthquake-mexicoMudbound by Hillary Jordan
Reviewed by the Book Babes: Carole, Charlotte, Vicki, Judy, Betsy, Missy, Sally, Rosey, Gail, and Patti

Vroman’s summarizes Mudbound: “This prize-winning novel is storytelling at the heights of its powers; the ache of wrongs not yet made right, the fierce attendance of history made real (Barbara Kingsolver), as men and women from two families become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale.”

Synopsis from Hillary Jordan’s website:

When Henry McAllan moves his city-bred wife, Laura, to a cotton farm in the Mississippi Delta in 1946, she finds herself in a place both foreign and frightening. Laura does not share Henry’s love of rural life, and she struggles to raise their two young children in an isolated shotgun shack with no indoor plumbing or electricity, all the while under the eye of her hateful, racist father-in-law. When it rains, the waters rise up and swallow the bridge to town, stranding the family in a sea of mud.

As the McAllans are being tested in every way, two celebrated soldiers of World War II return home to help work the farm. Jamie McAllan is everything his older brother Henry is not: charming, handsome, and sensitive to Laura’s plight, but also haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, comes home from fighting the Nazis with the shine of a war hero, only to face far more personal—and dangerous—battles against the ingrained bigotry of his own countrymen. It is the unlikely friendship of these two brothers-in-arms, and the passions they arouse in others, that drive this powerful debut novel. Mudbound reveals how everyone becomes a player in a tragedy on the grandest scale, even as they strive for love and honor.

Hillary Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction for Mudbound, her first novel. The prize was established by award-winning author Barbara Kingsolver. “Its intent is to advocate serious literary fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.”


Book Babe Thougts:

Missy, who is the evening’s moderator, asks the question, does Mudbound fulfill this intent; does Mudbound deserve the Bellwether prize?

Missy: In the story, black people are lynched and women are second class citizens. The story is gripping, but I became kind of mad at this book. On my second reading, I saw disappointing things, and ultimately found it morally simplistic.

Sally: The characters are stock characters, fitting stereotypes.

Gail: The author needs to work on character-building and giving her characters more depth, as they feel very one-dimensional.

Missy: I wanted someone to grow and evolve as a character. Laura was college-educated, but appeared clueless.

Judy: Laura is a product of her times and can’t grow. She is a good soul.

Rosey: She’s resigned.

One of the main characters is Papi, Henry and Jamie’s father. He’s overbearing, intolerant, and a soul-crushing man. Vicki: I’m surprised that Jordan didn’t kill him off sooner.

Vicki: Florence is the only redeemable character.

Judy: The characters are predictable, though there are human moments. Jamie is the book’s conscience. But, Jamie having to be an alcoholic in order to take the story to the place it has to go, that’s annoying.

Missy: The portrayal of Ronsel is patronizing. A martyred saint in a way, with cartoonish stereotyping. Could this be a subliminal form of racism? Henry is nice at the beginning of they story, but his racism is more insidious than the other white characters. He’s paternalistic and must keep himself on top. His comments and speech in regard to blacks are a clichè. Jordan’s use of minor characters is interesting, though Jordan’s use of foreshadowing is a simplistic literary device.

Missy: Instead of six voices, a greater understanding of the characters would be possible utilizing just one voice.

Gail: Love Jordan’s style; the book’s redeeming factor is the different voices.

Sally: The story covers a moment during a terrible time in America, but we know it; there’s no new information here. I don’t enjoy it when I can see the handwriting on the wall and see where the story is going.

Many Book Babes think the decision that Jamie has to ultimately make is “over the top,” melodramatic.

Vicki: The novel began with promise but became a soap opera.

Rosey: The last chapter, which is from Ronsel’s perspective, feels disjointed, unconnected to the rest of the book.

Quality of writing:
Missy, Charlotte and Judy: Love the way Mudbound is written.

Judy: well-constructed

Missy: a compelling story; it’s a good sign that I feel so torn and emotional about it.

Robin: Jordan deserves credit and I don’t find the characters flat.

Sally: I don’t need to like the characters to keep reading. If something is well written, I am compelled to finish it.


Author Hillary Jordan

Author Hillary Jordan


1 Response for “Mudbound by Hillary Jordan”

  1. Ann Erdman says:

    I read it two years ago when it was Pasadena’s One City, One Story selected novel. I’m glad it’s still in play!



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