All the big props to Trish who picked the best book club book EVER for September. I've been interested in Hillary Jordan's books ever since the premise of When She Woke got my attention. And I think Mudbound might've been a Tournament of Books participant even before that. Sadly, I waited so freaking long to read anything of Jordan's (story of my life, story of my blog). But, no more crying in my Diet Coke. I'm just glad to have picked it up--late to the party or not!
This is the story of two families in the post-WWII, Jim Crow South. The McAllens (Henry, Laura, Jamie, Pappy, and kids) are white farm owners and the Jacksons (Hap, Florence, Ronsel, and more kids) are one set of African American tenants who farm their land. They get to keep a larger share of their harvest than sharecroppers, but if they go into debt with the McAllens, they will once again fall into the sharecropping category.
This is just such a wonderful book on so many levels. Jordan's writing reads lightning-fast without sacrificing quality or narrative intricacy. While multiple narrators usually annoy me, the six (six!) in this one were masterfully done. The story rotates between Henry, the head of the McAllen family; Henry's displaced wife, Laura; Hap Jackson; his wife Florence (local midwife, McAllen's maid); their son Ronsel (returning WWII vet); and Henry McAllen's little brother, Jamie (also a returning WWII vet).
Did ya catch all that?
So basically we have lots of family dynamics at play here. There is tension between Henry and Laura because he plucked her from the city and plunked her down in the middle of BFE (bumfuck Egypt, for the unitiated). There is tension between Henry and Jamie because Jamie is dealing with post-war trauma feelings and he's a drunk and a flirt. There is tension between Hap Jackson and his son Ronsel because Ronsel is having trouble readajusting to life in the Jim Crow South. There is tension between Laura and Florence because they each have to sit back and watch their families dealing with all this stress. Pappy is a pain in everyone's patoot because he's a hateful old bag.
The real blow-the-roof-off tension in this book comes from Jamie and Ronsel's friendship. It was not ok for a white man and a black man to be friendly at this time in US history. It wasn't ok for Ronsel to ride in the cab of Jamie's truck, or for Ronsel to be Jamie's designated driver when he was tanked. Ronsel struggles even more because Ronsel was treated as a equal during his time in European countries during the war since the same hang-ups about race did not exist there.
All of these tensions and social and cultural issues make for one flammable stew, and this book seriously broke my heart. It all comes to a hopeful conclusion, rest assured, but the journey was just incredible. Highly recommended.
Pub. Date:March 2009
Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: Bought it!
Watch me gush about some more issues in this book including the way Jordan handles race relations.