three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-MudboundIn 1940s Memphis, Henry McAllan saves college-bred Laura from spinsterhood. But when she follows her husband to a mud-bound farm in the Mississippi Delta to fulfill his dream of working the land, she finds a house without modern amenities, a mean-spirited father-in-law, and domestic and racial abuses. As World War II ends, two returning vets bring a glimmer of hope to her world: black wartime hero Ronsel Jackson, the son of sharecroppers who must return to the South’s retrogressive culture, and Henry’s brother, the charming, haunted Jamie McAllan. Narrated in turns by Laura, Jamie, Henry, Ronsel, and others, Mudbound offers a shocking, tragic depiction of the Jim Crow South.
Algonquin Books. 336 pages. $22.95. ISBN: 156512569X

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Jordan unhesitatingly lays out the injustices of the 1940s South. Rather than drifting toward the pat solutions that too many novels of this era suggest, she leaves us both satisfied and mired in the frustrations of cultural prejudices that extend well beyond the post-bellum American South." Jennie Camp

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s so carefully considered and so full of weight, like the heavy, wet mud of the Delta. And it’s extraordinarily plain writing, devoid of any fancy words, any hyperbole, any prettiness—perfect for this tragedy set in the American South." Tom Voegeli

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"With authentic, earthy prose—‘His lips were dark red, like the gills of a bass’—Jordan picks at the scabs of racial inequality that will perhaps never fully heal and brings just enough heartbreak to this intimate, universal tale, just enough suspense, to leave us contemplating how the lives and motives of these vivid characters might have been different." Steve Bennett

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"This mixture of the predictable and the unpredictable will keep readers turning the pages. … This ambitious first novel will leave you mulling over the characters, yet feeling uncomfortable judging some of them." Anne Morris

Denver Post 3 of 5 Stars
"The question Jordan veers from, perhaps because it is so inexplicable, is what drives the most evil characters in her book. Pappy stands in for the worst of the Jim Crow attitudes, but he is the one central character who is never given a chance to speak for himself." Robin Vidimos

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"Fortunately, Mudbound is not as clunky as the Bellwether Prize would suggest, but it does suffer from a deadening earnestness." Ron Charles

Critical Summary

Winner of Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize (2006), which recognizes an unpublished manuscript promoting social responsibility, Jordan’s debut novel exposes the racism and sexism of the Jim Crow South. Most critics embraced this topic, even while recognizing its heavy-handedness; the Washington Post noted that "the book doesn’t challenge our prejudices so much as give us the easy satisfaction of feeling superior to these evil Southerners." Reviewers disagreed somewhat on the complexity of character development, with a few complaining of unclear motives. They agreed, however, on the power of Jordan’s plain, earthy writing (reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor’s prose, to some) and the compelling plot. If it’s too early to say that "after just one book … here’s a voice that will echo for years to come," as the San Antonio Express-News claims, Jordan is a new author worth watching.