by Lori Helke
Hillary Jordan’s novel Mudbound captured my attention in a way that is hard to describe. It was painful. The characters are real and intense. There is love, longing, friendship, and an agonizing look at racism in 1940’s Mississippi.
As is my preference, I like to watch the movie adaptation of a novel before I begin to read it, which is what I did with Mudbound. After watching the critically acclaimed movie, I knew the book was going to take me to places I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit, but knew I had to. The movie was so good, meshing all the characters stories together. While you can never explore each character or story within the time frame of a movie, I felt the movie did an excellent job of following the storyline of the novel.
Once I began the novel, I could not put it down.
Each chapter is narrated by a main character of the story, and the story focuses on two families—the McAllan family and the Jackson family. The McAllans move from the city to live out the dream of Henry McAllan to become a cotton farmer.
His wife Laura tries her best to adapt, but she struggles with loneliness, her cantankerous and racist Father-in-law, and no indoor plumbing. Only Henry’s younger brother Jamie seems to understand her and give her the attention she needs.
Laura was the character that resonated with me the most. How isolated she felt, cut off from her old life. The one thing she has is her prized piano. Although she believes Henry loves her, his indifference and selfish desire to fulfill his dream leaves Laura a lonely broken soul.
The lives of the McAllans are intertwined with the Jackson family. The Jacksons are black sharecroppers living on the McAllan farm. When Jamie and the Jacksons’ eldest son, Ronsel, return from World War II, the two strike up an unlikely friendship. This friendship has the racists of the community in an uproar and despite the warnings, the pair continue to keep up their friendship. The result is hatred takes over and lives are forever changed.
This storyline is a horrendous reminder of our country’s sordid past and the cruel treatment African Americans still struggle with today.
Jordan’s novel makes me wonder, Can our country ever overcome racial hatred? Although it is evident that for the most part, we have come a long way from the 1940’s, we are reminded every day, we have a long way to go, I’d like to believe that someday that hate that has been passed down through the generations will be replaced by love.
For now, I urge you to read Mudbound. This story will stay with you forever.
Hillary Jordan will be reading and signing her novel, Mudbound, at the KI Center on Saturday, April 21, at 4 pm. Reserve your FREE ticket for a guaranteed seat here.