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In Jordan's prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband's Mississippi Delta farm—a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family's struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura's brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not—charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion.

The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale. As Kingsolver says of Hillary Jordan, "Her characters walked straight out of 1940s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are with me still."

Topics: Mississippi, American South, 1940s, Heartbreaking, Tense, Multiple Perspectives, Debut, Epic, Tragic, Dysfunctional Family, Sexism, Veterans, Discrimination, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Farming, Soldiers, Civil and Political Rights, Courage, Brothers, Love, Adultery, Race Relations, Death, Family, War, Female Protagonist, and American History

Published: Workman eBooks on
ISBN: 9781565126374
List price: $14.95
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There is no doubt that Jordan is an incredibly gifted writer, and this is one powerful, tragic story. The characters, warts and all, leap off of the page, and the telling of the story through the six different perspectives is wonderfully done. I also appreciated the variety of themes the novel tackled: racism, adultery, gender roles, war and silence are among the ones that immediately come to mind. That this is Jordan's debut novel is something to be marveled at.

I think the pace of the novel is something that could have been improved upon. I felt that the majority of the first 200 pages or so was background information designed to introduce the characters and their motivations, but not much happens. And then, all at once, in a fury many things happen. The consequence of this is that too much for me was left unexplored about what occurred as a result of a startling series of events, and I was left wondering how the characters truly felt about the chaos that occurred in the last 100 pages. I understand that a lot of the background was absolutely necessary as groundwork for the events in those 100 pages, because without it the characters would have felt flat. But I would have enjoyed a longer exploration at the end of what the characters were left with in the aftermath.

I also wish that Hap, Florence and Pappy had been drawn more clearly as characters. Pappy is clearly the bogeyman of our tale, and while many stories need one of those, for this particular one I felt he was overdone. What makes someone so coldblooded, so despicable as Pappy? The book clearly shows close to nothing redeemable about his character, and when you're shooting for something realistic, it should be better explained why this is the case. Also, for me Hap and Florence's relationship was better portrayed by Jordan than the two characters themselves. While the relationship is an excellent foil to Henry and Laura's, the characters could use a bit of fleshing out. How did Hap feel about being constantly being asked to berate his son for his "misbehavior"? How did Florence, a strong and willful woman, feel about being constantly kept down by her gender and her race? I feel like Florence could have been the best character in the novel if Jordan had dug into her a little more.

But overall, this was a wonderful story and I will certainly read Jordan's next novel. The two criticisms I explained above are merely because I felt this book could have been extraordinary with just a little more put into it.more
Tackling “race” relations in the American South can be treacherous, particularly when the author is white and writing from the black perspective. Anytime an author writes in the voice of another group (ethnic, gender, social class, et cetera), he better know what he is doing. Three of the six characters that Hillary Jordan gives voice to in her debut novel, Mudbound, come from a family of black sharecroppers, yet Jordan does an admirable job of creating original and culturally significant characters.

Through alternating voices, each fairly unique, Jordan offers a fresh look at an old—yet never trite—subject. While the social issues largely revolve around ethnicity, Jordan also addresses sexism, class division, war and the trauma from war. Against a well-painted landscape, the story of Mudbound unravels at a wonderful pace; when the climax drops, the reader feels as though he is living through the drama in real-time.

Some turns were a little too convenient—characters in the right place (or wrong place) at the right time, Points A, B, and C connecting too easily, and so forth—but it still worked. There were enough surprises and original takes on the subject that the story was largely believable.more
I had sworn off any and all novels dealing with racial themes set in the South. There is only so much self-flagellating I can do in a year in penance for things in which I had no part. Certainly I realize that the theme is worth exploring, and that if you want to write a book set in the South, especially between the years covering Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era, race is going to play a part. This is all well and good, and admirable in that examining the past through the gauze of fiction can get at some of the smaller truths and nuances that non-fiction just can't.

I was just weary of it.

But a galley came in for this book, and I wish I could tell you what made me bring it home to read, but I honestly don't remember. Maybe it was the first paragraph.

"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, reformed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony -- the old man, getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thought and memory."

Well, this was intriguing, so I flipped a few more pages in and stumbled on this:

"When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Limning my husband's fingernails and encrusting the children's knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown."

It was at this point I got flashes of Ron Rash's brilliant One Foot in Eden, and my resolve to step away from novels that mention Jim Crow on their jacket blurbs faded away. Sometimes it is a good thing I don't stick to a plan.


Hillary Jordan's Bellwether Prize winning novel subtly captures all the nuances of the South -- the uneasy inter-reliance the races have always had on each other; the familial ties that often defy explanation; and the realization that it was the fertile ground for change tilled during World War II in which the seeds of social change were planted.

Mudbound is written in the alternating voices of the McAllan and Jackson families. They are bound together by the sharecropping arrangement between the two families, one white (the McAllans), the other black (the Jacksons). Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson have both served their time in service to the country, and they each find themselves returning to a home that is at once familiar as air and foreign as Europe once was for them. Ronsel, especially, must cope with the memory of the sense of equality he enjoyed while in Europe and the abrupt return to the status quo of an unchanged South.


Equally as off-balance in this world is Laura McAllan. She was raised in gentility, and the family land to which her husband is pledged is a far cry from anything she had ever known. Married to Jamie's brother, whose solid nature has, with familiarity, become thuddingly dull, Laura is rejuvenated by the handsome returning war veteran, Jamie. In him she sees the possibility of an awakening.

The stage is set for disaster when Jamie and Ronsel strike up a friendship forged by the bonds of war, and from the moment that is set in motion until the final paragraph, I was riveted.

The real treasure in this novel, however, lies in Jordan's masterful writing which captures every subtle gradation of the nature of the relationships between families of different races who depend on each other with a mixture of respect, fear, loathing, and affection. Nowhere is this dichotomy more eloquent than in a passage in which Laura speaks of Florence Jackson's daughter, Lilly May, who often accompanies her mother to the McAllan's house while Florence cleans the house. Laura speaks of Lilly May's beautiful voice:

"The first time I head her, I was playing the piano and teaching the girls the words to 'Amazing Grace' when Lilly May joined in from the front porch, where she was shelling peas. I've always prided myself on my singing voice but when I heard hers I was so humbled I was struck dumb. Her voice had no earthly clay in it, just a sure sweet grace that was both a yielding and a promise. Anyone who believes that Negroes are not God's children never heard Lilly May Jackson sing to Him.

This is not to say that I thought of Florence and her family as equal to me and mine. I called her Florence and she called me Miz McAllan. She and Lilly May didn't use our outhouse, but did their business in the bushes out back. And when we sat down to the noon meal, the two of them ate outside on the porch."


Mudbound took my breath away, and if Ms. Jordan's novel doesn't wind up with several more honors for it I'll be surprised.more
In lieu of a review, I wouldlike to share a post that I wrote to Hillary Jordan, back in the day when she was author of the week on LibraryThing.Hi, Hillary.I noticed that you are one of the LT Authors on the Home Page today. I wanted to stop by and let you know that when I see your name, your picture or the title of your book, "Mudbound" that my thoughts are lifted and brightened by knowing you are in this ol' world and writing, writing, writing for yourself and all of us who love to read.Have a lovely, safe and thanks-filled holiday with friends and family alike.With love and admiration ...Your friend and supporter,Ruth Craig/womansheart 10:11 am (EST) on Nov 25, 2009more
Read all 85 reviews

Reviews

There is no doubt that Jordan is an incredibly gifted writer, and this is one powerful, tragic story. The characters, warts and all, leap off of the page, and the telling of the story through the six different perspectives is wonderfully done. I also appreciated the variety of themes the novel tackled: racism, adultery, gender roles, war and silence are among the ones that immediately come to mind. That this is Jordan's debut novel is something to be marveled at.

I think the pace of the novel is something that could have been improved upon. I felt that the majority of the first 200 pages or so was background information designed to introduce the characters and their motivations, but not much happens. And then, all at once, in a fury many things happen. The consequence of this is that too much for me was left unexplored about what occurred as a result of a startling series of events, and I was left wondering how the characters truly felt about the chaos that occurred in the last 100 pages. I understand that a lot of the background was absolutely necessary as groundwork for the events in those 100 pages, because without it the characters would have felt flat. But I would have enjoyed a longer exploration at the end of what the characters were left with in the aftermath.

I also wish that Hap, Florence and Pappy had been drawn more clearly as characters. Pappy is clearly the bogeyman of our tale, and while many stories need one of those, for this particular one I felt he was overdone. What makes someone so coldblooded, so despicable as Pappy? The book clearly shows close to nothing redeemable about his character, and when you're shooting for something realistic, it should be better explained why this is the case. Also, for me Hap and Florence's relationship was better portrayed by Jordan than the two characters themselves. While the relationship is an excellent foil to Henry and Laura's, the characters could use a bit of fleshing out. How did Hap feel about being constantly being asked to berate his son for his "misbehavior"? How did Florence, a strong and willful woman, feel about being constantly kept down by her gender and her race? I feel like Florence could have been the best character in the novel if Jordan had dug into her a little more.

But overall, this was a wonderful story and I will certainly read Jordan's next novel. The two criticisms I explained above are merely because I felt this book could have been extraordinary with just a little more put into it.more
Tackling “race” relations in the American South can be treacherous, particularly when the author is white and writing from the black perspective. Anytime an author writes in the voice of another group (ethnic, gender, social class, et cetera), he better know what he is doing. Three of the six characters that Hillary Jordan gives voice to in her debut novel, Mudbound, come from a family of black sharecroppers, yet Jordan does an admirable job of creating original and culturally significant characters.

Through alternating voices, each fairly unique, Jordan offers a fresh look at an old—yet never trite—subject. While the social issues largely revolve around ethnicity, Jordan also addresses sexism, class division, war and the trauma from war. Against a well-painted landscape, the story of Mudbound unravels at a wonderful pace; when the climax drops, the reader feels as though he is living through the drama in real-time.

Some turns were a little too convenient—characters in the right place (or wrong place) at the right time, Points A, B, and C connecting too easily, and so forth—but it still worked. There were enough surprises and original takes on the subject that the story was largely believable.more
I had sworn off any and all novels dealing with racial themes set in the South. There is only so much self-flagellating I can do in a year in penance for things in which I had no part. Certainly I realize that the theme is worth exploring, and that if you want to write a book set in the South, especially between the years covering Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era, race is going to play a part. This is all well and good, and admirable in that examining the past through the gauze of fiction can get at some of the smaller truths and nuances that non-fiction just can't.

I was just weary of it.

But a galley came in for this book, and I wish I could tell you what made me bring it home to read, but I honestly don't remember. Maybe it was the first paragraph.

"Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, reformed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony -- the old man, getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thought and memory."

Well, this was intriguing, so I flipped a few more pages in and stumbled on this:

"When I think of the farm, I think of mud. Limning my husband's fingernails and encrusting the children's knees and hair. Sucking at my feet like a greedy newborn on the breast. Marching in boot-shaped patches across the plank floors of the house. There was no defeating it. The mud coated everything. I dreamed in brown."

It was at this point I got flashes of Ron Rash's brilliant One Foot in Eden, and my resolve to step away from novels that mention Jim Crow on their jacket blurbs faded away. Sometimes it is a good thing I don't stick to a plan.


Hillary Jordan's Bellwether Prize winning novel subtly captures all the nuances of the South -- the uneasy inter-reliance the races have always had on each other; the familial ties that often defy explanation; and the realization that it was the fertile ground for change tilled during World War II in which the seeds of social change were planted.

Mudbound is written in the alternating voices of the McAllan and Jackson families. They are bound together by the sharecropping arrangement between the two families, one white (the McAllans), the other black (the Jacksons). Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson have both served their time in service to the country, and they each find themselves returning to a home that is at once familiar as air and foreign as Europe once was for them. Ronsel, especially, must cope with the memory of the sense of equality he enjoyed while in Europe and the abrupt return to the status quo of an unchanged South.


Equally as off-balance in this world is Laura McAllan. She was raised in gentility, and the family land to which her husband is pledged is a far cry from anything she had ever known. Married to Jamie's brother, whose solid nature has, with familiarity, become thuddingly dull, Laura is rejuvenated by the handsome returning war veteran, Jamie. In him she sees the possibility of an awakening.

The stage is set for disaster when Jamie and Ronsel strike up a friendship forged by the bonds of war, and from the moment that is set in motion until the final paragraph, I was riveted.

The real treasure in this novel, however, lies in Jordan's masterful writing which captures every subtle gradation of the nature of the relationships between families of different races who depend on each other with a mixture of respect, fear, loathing, and affection. Nowhere is this dichotomy more eloquent than in a passage in which Laura speaks of Florence Jackson's daughter, Lilly May, who often accompanies her mother to the McAllan's house while Florence cleans the house. Laura speaks of Lilly May's beautiful voice:

"The first time I head her, I was playing the piano and teaching the girls the words to 'Amazing Grace' when Lilly May joined in from the front porch, where she was shelling peas. I've always prided myself on my singing voice but when I heard hers I was so humbled I was struck dumb. Her voice had no earthly clay in it, just a sure sweet grace that was both a yielding and a promise. Anyone who believes that Negroes are not God's children never heard Lilly May Jackson sing to Him.

This is not to say that I thought of Florence and her family as equal to me and mine. I called her Florence and she called me Miz McAllan. She and Lilly May didn't use our outhouse, but did their business in the bushes out back. And when we sat down to the noon meal, the two of them ate outside on the porch."


Mudbound took my breath away, and if Ms. Jordan's novel doesn't wind up with several more honors for it I'll be surprised.more
In lieu of a review, I wouldlike to share a post that I wrote to Hillary Jordan, back in the day when she was author of the week on LibraryThing.Hi, Hillary.I noticed that you are one of the LT Authors on the Home Page today. I wanted to stop by and let you know that when I see your name, your picture or the title of your book, "Mudbound" that my thoughts are lifted and brightened by knowing you are in this ol' world and writing, writing, writing for yourself and all of us who love to read.Have a lovely, safe and thanks-filled holiday with friends and family alike.With love and admiration ...Your friend and supporter,Ruth Craig/womansheart 10:11 am (EST) on Nov 25, 2009more
I first read this author's second novel, "When she woke" and being a Scarlet Letter fan I really enjoyed this modern day take on that novel. When I saw she had a first novel, I put it on my TBR and there it remained until as a New Year's resolution I decided to read at least two book from my TBR each month. This novel blew me away, I became emotionally involved in these characters and their lives. Two strong women, one white, one black, different circumstances but both with a strong love for their families. The Mississippi Delta area, in the Jim Crow south, where fairness for backs just very seldom happened. I never really thought about the blacks that had fought in World War II, the Tuskegee Airmen, tank divisions and after discharge had to return to the south where their families were, and still told to use the back door of a business. I think that is what I loved about this book, it made me think about unfairness, injustice but about real strength as well. Appreciating what you have now yet doing what you can to make a small difference. This was her first novel and it was fantastic, her second was very good albeit very different, but still addressed the many ills and unfairness in society whether in the past or the future. I wonder what her third will be?more
Here's something interesting about this earnest, well-meaning book. It was awarded the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, a prize granted to a book that "addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships." It was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver and is funded entirely by her. Which means, of course, that she can probably hand it out to whomever she wishes. But one can't help but wonder if it isn't a conflict of interest when the author thanks Kingsolver in the acknowledgements for "turning the story into a coherent, compelling narrative [if the author does say so herself]; her passionate support of literature of social change; and the generous and much-needed award."Really?Surely if Kingsolver is awarding an author a prize, it shouldn't be for a book she more or less edited. Just seems wrong. Having said that, MUDBOUND is certainly a work that addresses issues of social justice, and so if that is the overriding criteria, then I suppose I holds, but it says nothing about the quality of the novel itself, does it?I enjoyed the book, as a quick read. The multiple points of view is well handled, although by the end I thought the narrative would have been better served by fewer perspectives. So many voices watered down the tension, for me. As well, this story of two brothers and one woman has been told many times before, and better -- I'm thinking of ON THE NIGHT PLAIN by J. Robert Lennon -- so there was little new there. Nor was there much new in the portrayal of racism in the south. Jordan competently describes it, and certainly the climax scene is as horrific and terrifying as one might imagine, but it's not new territory. I kept thinking there was a deeper, more thoughtful book lurking just under the surface that Jordan didn't quite get to. However, perhaps this is harsh criticism. It is her first novel and frankly, it's much better than THE HELP, which uses 'eye-dialect' and never really strikes a realistic chord when focusing on the African American characters (I understand the film manages this better, but I didn't see it). Jordan does better here, infusing her black characters with dignity and a simmering rage that rings utterly true. Still, Ronsel, one of the POV black characters, makes a decision at the end of the book which is unexplained, and I found that odd.In spite of this criticism -- that the book should not be awarded a prize from someone so closely associated with it, and that there is little new here -- I think Jordan has a wonderful eye for character detail, and a fine prose style. I'll look for more of her work in the future.more
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