Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Reasons for reading: Southern Challenge II; book club
First line: "Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep."
From the inside flap: "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."
My thoughts: The word to describe this book is gripping! It kept me up past 1:30 in the morning. For some reason I was often reminded of East of Eden, probably because of the two brothers, the terrible father, and the farm.
This book made me feel things physically. The first descriptions of the way blacks were treated in the Jim Crow South made me feel hollow inside and when they got much, much worse, I actually felt sick. When the worse, worse thing happened, my hand flew to my mouth, which is exactly what happens to Laura when she hears about it. I felt heartbroken for Laura, first when she felt like a rejected spinster and then when she had to move to the horrible farm (Jordan really makes you see and feel and smell the oozing, everywhere mud) and then I felt anger at Henry that he made his wife and children live that way. I felt Laura's hatred of the racist, chauvinistic, just plain mean Pappy, too.
The story is told from many points of view (Henry, Laura, Jamie, Ronsel, and his parents), which in the hand of a less talented author could be confusing and annoying, but every one of them has their own distinct personality and take on things. It also really lends itself to the theme of where a story begins and what could have been - the "ifs" of life. Laura points out early on that "Even if you start with "Chapter One: I Am Born," you still have the problem of antecedents, of cause and effect." For example, the McCallans and the Jacksons probably never would have met if For example, the terrible events that happen at the end of the story can be traced all the way back to plain Laura still being single in 30's and marrying Henry, who was still a bachelor in his 40's and was desperate to own a farm.
Oh....I can't do it justice!! Read this excellent book and see for yourself!
(Or check out my pal Vidalia's much better review here.)