Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mudbound by Hilary Jordan *****

How many people do you really know in a lifetime? Your parents, but maybe not until they're long buried? A childhood friend from before we all mature into politeness and deceit. Perhaps you might add to this short list Elizabeth Bennett or Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov? Isn't that what great literature offers? A chance to meet more people than time and society affords? If that's the case, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is great literature.

A dirt-poor, Mississippi-delta cotton town, unchanged since reconstruction, is the unlikely stage for three people, invaders from outside, to make their own private journey into the future. Laura McAllen, newly wed and rescued from spinsterhood, brings her Memphis sensibilities and nascent women's rights to the challenge of rural farm life without electricity, plumbing, society or family. Jamie McAllan, her brother-in-law, and Ronsel Jackson, son of black sharecroppers, both return from the war, having seen a different world. As the only two veterans in town, they are drawn to each other to talk about the horrors they've seen and to drink away the PTSD nightmares. But this is before a black man and a white man can sit together in a restuarant or even drive together in a truck.

But this is not a story of the broader political struggle or strivings for social justice that will lead to civil rights for the larger populations represented by these three people. It is the story of these three people; people you'll know and love. This story, like life, drives you forward each day wondering what will happen next regardless of the horror of today. A wonderfully engaging and uplifting tale.

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