Date Completed: 12/7/2015
Started off with a bang, I found this book pretty dry for the next couple chapters, but the pace picked back up around page 50. Jordan started with the end, then worked from beginning to end once again, picking up the pieces along the way. Jordan’s style was easily understood, yet captivating with the switches from voice to voice, for a total of six different first person approaches to the story, each voice picking up where the last left off. There was murder, mystery, intrigue, romance, everything you could hope for in a novel.
Set in Mississippi, Jordan tells the tale of of Ronsel and Jamie, their families, and the cotton farm called Mudbound. The unlikely interracial bond between these two men in the Deep South in the late 1940’s quickly leads to fear and distrust from all of their friends, until it eventually ends in pain and sadness. Each character expresses their story differently. Laura and Henry are so different from each other, as she expresses here, “I felt a ripple of envy, which I saw echoed on Jamie’s face. How simple things were for Henry! How I wished sometimes that I could join him in his stark, right-angled world, where everything was either right or wrong and there was no doubt which was which. What unimaginable luxury, never to wrestle with whether or why, never to lie awake at nights wondering what if.” However, one of the crafts that Jordan has seemed to master in giving readers varying perspectives is where the bits of truth in what each character believes about each other are and where they project emotions and feelings that aren’t necessarily true. I can understand why Laura feels that Henry doesn’t have any grey areas, but listening to him talk it out in his sections leads me to believe he is far more complicated than that, but chooses the black and white because he does not want to rock the boat. Jordan’s novel tests the limits of our assumptions and contradicts them nearly every time, subtly enough that I’m not always sure if anything is correct.
I’m not sure how I felt about Jordan putting words into the mouths of people coming from such varying backgrounds with identities so drastically different from her, but I feel that she did her research, well enough at least that I was able to slip into the story without feeling that anything was noticeably amiss. Coming in and out of reading this book made me wonder how kosher it was for her to write for all those people, though, particularly because the book was so heavily a critique/history on racial inequality in America and she wrote from different racial perspectives as a white woman. However, the whole book is designed to make you uncomfortable, and to recognize the feelings behind why you feel discomfort. Each persons feelings are validated (except Pappy’s) without discussion from the author. It definitely makes me feel connected to each person differently than I might have if it were single-perspective or if I were witnesses the situation from an outsider’s perspective.
SPOILER ALERT: Nothing goes well in this book. Jordan made me think and wonder about everything, but nothing went well. It’s the story of a struggle to live on a cotton farm and the struggle was real for each person in this novel in very different ways. Nobody was happy at the end, and I appreciate that, because Jordan is not trying to hide the injustice of life in America. There isn’t always a happy ending, and that’s okay, but we owe it to ourselves and each other to figure out why and to work together to make it better.
This is Jordan’s first novel. She has a BA in English, an MFA in Creative Writing. She grew up in Texas and Oklahoma and lives now in New York. Her newer book is called When She Woke.