Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mudbound - Hillary Jordan

Set in 1946, Mudbound is the story of two families - one black and one white. Henry McAllen marries late in life to Laura. Along with their two children, and Henry's racist and abrasive father, Pappy, they move into a farmhouse on the Mississippi Delta. At home working the land, Henry is oblivious to Laura's misery. Jamie, his much younger brother, returns home from the war, reaching for the bottle in an attempt to dull the painful memories of his time overseas. Jamie befriends a fellow soldier named Ronsel, the eldest son of black sharecroppers working on Henry's land. Ronsel's demand for respect from the town's old white men, and his developing friendship with Jamie, fuels the fires of hatred. The chapters in this story are told from the alternating perspectives of the various characters. This storytelling method seems to have become so popular lately, that I find I no longer enjoy it. Instead of being clever, it just lends itself to a disjointed narrative. In general, this book was just too depressing, and the racism so distasteful (but realistic), that I had a hard time getting through it. Jordan's character development was impressive - each character with a flaw (some bigger than others), but each also with a backstory that explained (but did not forgive) the ugliness. In terms of themes, I don't feel this one added much to the dialogue about race relations or reconstruction - though Ronsel's differing experiences in Europe vis-a-vis- Mississippi was interesting. But, for realism and tragedy, this one certainly comes through.

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