Book Review: Mudbound


Hilary Jordan

Algonquin Books

340 pages

Mudbound is truly a story of prejudice and hatred.  Laura McAllen has been dragged onto a Mississippi farm by her older husband Henry, who is living out his dream by becoming a farmer.  Laura, however, is less than pleased at the prospect of living on a farm.  She and her two young daughters immediately christen their home “Mudbound”.  Laura is forced to bide her time in the home while her husband continuously makes empty promises to move her into a house in town.  To add insult to injury, Laura is forced to deal with her racist, mean-spirited father-in-law.  While Laura is initially the main character of Mudbound, the story eventually evolves to the relationship between Henry’s younger brother Jamie and a young man named Ronsel Jackson.

Ronsel’s family is black and they are sharecroppers on the McAllen farm.  The two families get along well at first, although all of the people involved are aware of the racial divide that separates them.  Ronsel changes all that when he comes home after fighting in WWII midway through the book.  Ronsel has just put his life on the line on behalf of the US , so he is deeply aggrieved to come back to Mississippi and find that his valor is unappreciated.  Instead, he is faced with the same prejudice that he had left behind years ago.  The only person that comes to ignore his color is Jamie McAllen.  Jamie had also been in combat, and both men are deeply wounded by the time they spent fighting for their country.  Both Jamie and Ronsel are able to understand what the other has gone through, which forms between them an unbreakable bond.  Unfortunately, that bond is not appreciated by either of their families or the town in which they live.  Jamie is white, Ronsel is black.  Therefore, they are not supposed to associate with one another in a friendly manner.  Eventually, Ronsel’s inability to behave in a way dictated by the white population at the time leads to the horrifying culmination of Mudbound.

This book left me heartbroken.  It was so realistic and the sentiments of the characters so true.  Pappy’s extreme racism and overall snottiness added an evil force to the mix.  I will say, I think Mudbound would have been even better if Pappy had been included as one of the narrators.  Jamie was charming and lovable, despite the brooding quality he became immersed in after returning from war.  Ronsel’s willingness to stand up for himself no matter what was endearing.  I found Laura to be too weak willed.  She was so unhappy with where she was living but yet she allowed her husband to make those decisions without standing up for herself.  I have seen some reviews that rebuke Henry for forcing Laura to live his dream—in fact, some of the reviewers have really loathed Henry.  This shocked me, actually.  I just didn’t find him all that reprehensible.  I think he was surprised at how closed off his wife was.  I think he understood completely the type of feelings she had for Jamie.  I don’t think he really understood how much Laura really hated living at Mudbound.  That doesn’t mean I don’t think Henry was without fault.  The way he reacted to Laura’s “issue” midway through the book (referred to that way to prevent spoilers!) was awful.  But overall, I think Henry was just misguided and lonely.

I enjoyed the narration of the story immensely: Henry, Jamie, Laura, Ronsel, Florence and her husband Hap (Ronsel’s parents) all switched between one another in narrating the story.  I really enjoy when narration switches back and forth between characters, for the most part.  It can really add a lot to the story by offering the reader different views and inputs.  I think Jordan did a good job in weaving the story through the incorporation of six of the characters. 

Overall, Mudbound is not to be missed.

Other Reviews:

 Boston Bibliophile

Medieval Bookworm

Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Lesley’s Book Nook

The Literate Housewife Review

1 More Chapter

I borrowed this book from my local library.

10 Responses

  1. I’m surprised that people would rebuke Henry. While we may not agree with his actions, I think the author did a marvelous job of illustrating both the pervasive racism of the time, as well as men’s attitudes….often, they expected their wives to blindly follow.

  2. I like to read different point of view, too – it gives you a much clearer picture of what happened. This book sounds fantastic, even if it is sad.

  3. This sounds like a really interesting book dealing with tough issues. I am interested to read it, another add to the wish list!

  4. The title caught my eye but your review brought this book to life! This sounds like a difficult (but satisfying) read. It brings to mind a book called Wild Geese by Martha Ostenso, which is set on a farm but also invokes similar feelings of frustration, sadness, and rural isolation.

  5. Glad you felt the same way about this book. It is so powerful. I don’t know how I would have dealt with a narration from Pappy. I’m not sure I’d have liked it!

  6. I wanted to shoot Henry while I was listening to this book. Rationally I agree with Softdrink. He was a man of his time. Emotionally, he brought all of this on everyone. Great review!

  7. Just landed on this blog! I like it. We’ve also just started a forum blog for bookreaders in India!

    Your invited to see it and join us as an bookreviewer! You can just repost all your bookreviews from here if you wish to.

    Even if not, you suggestions are welcome!


  8. I’ve heard marvelous things about this one. I think I’m going to suggest it for my book club.

  9. […] Reviews by Lola’s Blog […]

  10. I just finished this powerful read. I didn’t feel enmity toward Henry. I think he was doing what men of this time felt they needed to do. Farm and take care of their family. The fact that he initially tried to rent a house in town shows he cared for what Laura was going to be going through and didn’t want her to be isolated. Pappy was a dreadful man! I hated him through the entire thing. Great review! And I, like Lisa, will be nominating this for our book club read next Tuesday. Loved it!

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