2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction
Synopses & Reviews
A gripping and exquisitely rendered story of forbidden love, betrayal, and murder, set against the brutality of the Jim Crow South.
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.
Jordan's indelible portrayal of two families caught up in the blind hatred of a small Southern town earned the prestigious Bellwether Prize for Fiction, awarded biennially to a first literary novel that addresses issues of social injustice.
"[A] sophisticated, complex first novel." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Mudbound, an ambitious and affecting debut, may very well become a staple of syllabi for courses in Southern literature. It is accessible, engaging and spiked with suspense." Paste Magazine
"[A] poignant and moving debut novel....Jordan faultlessly portrays the values of the 1940s as she builds to a stunning conclusion. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"The perils of country living are brought to light in a confidently executed novel." Kirkus Reviews
In Jordan's prize-winning debut, prejudice takes many forms, both subtle and brutal. It is 1946, and city-bred Laura McAllan is trying to raise her children on her husband's Mississippi Delta farm a place she finds foreign and frightening. In the midst of the family's struggles, two young men return from the war to work the land. Jamie McAllan, Laura's brother-in-law, is everything her husband is not charming, handsome, and haunted by his memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllan farm, has come home with the shine of a war hero. But no matter his bravery in defense of his country, he is still considered less than a man in the Jim Crow South. It is the unlikely friendship of these brothers-in-arms that drives this powerful novel to its inexorable conclusion.
The men and women of each family relate their versions of events and we are drawn into their lives as they become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale. As Kingsolver says of Hillary Jordan, "Her characters walked straight out of 1940s Mississippi and into the part of my brain where sympathy and anger and love reside, leaving my heart racing. They are with me still."
Winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction, Mudbound is storytelling at the height of its powers: "the ache of wrongs not yet made right, the fierce attendance of history made real" (Barbara Kingsolver), as men and women from two families become players in a tragedy on the grandest scale.
About the Author
HILLARY JORDAN is the author of Mudbound, winner of the 2006 Bellwether Prize for fiction and an Alex Award from the American Library Association. She grew up in Dallas, Texas, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. She lives in New York City.