The only thing one can be sure of as the story of the McAllan and Jackson families unfolds in Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is that someone has died and a grave must be dug. Henry and Jamie McAllan, brothers separated by a generation, a war and so much more, are desperately trying to dig a grave in between torrential rainstorms in rural Mississippi in the years following World War II. As the hole goes from three feet to four feet deep they unearth the remnants of a crime that, while having occurred perhaps decades before, foreshadows the events that transpire within the narrative. The crime? The murder of a runaway slave in a part of the country that even after World War II hadn’t changed its perception of the African Americans who helped to farm their land and fight their war. African Americans still entered and exited from the back door, sat on the back of the bus, and replied “yes suh” and “no suh” with downturned eyes.
But while race relations play a central part in Mudbound, love (familial, carnal, and romantic) is ever present. Laura McAllan, wife of Henry, believes “Death may be inevitable, but love is not. Love you have to choose.” Laura , a college educated spinster of 31, meets and marries Henry. Was it love or fear of “petrification” on Laura’s part? Henry tears Laura away from her gentle existence to settle on a farm in rural Mississippi in a home that’s more shack than house. Farming was a dream that he had had all his life, a dream he never shared with her, a dream that was his alone. Not only does Henry impose this harsh existance on Laura, he also thrusts the care and keeping of his nasty, abusive, racist father upon her. From the first moment that Pappy meets Laura, her dislike for him blooms. Life on the farm is hard on everyone: the family, the share croppers, and the tenant farmers.
The Jackson family lives on Henry’s land as tenant farmers trying to eke out a living by paying a portion of what they produce to Henry for the use of his land. Hap and his wife, Florence, eagerly await the return of their son Ronsel. The war is over, but he’s found life over in Europe so freeing that he dreads coming home. From the moment Ronsel hits town the characters’ lives spiral out of control until the inevitable conclusion.
Mudbound is a beautifully constructed story about racism, and the extent to which a family can be melded together or broken apart by secrets, betrayals, and misplaced love. A must read.
Please join the Monthly Book Club on Tuesday, October 26 at 1:00 PM or 7 :30 PM as we discuss this marvelous novel.
– posted by Susan, Readers Services’