The Daily Monocle

Critical book reviews from a literary skeptic.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Posted by J. P. Wickwire

This is a review/article hybrid. I hope you all enjoy it. :D


Mud in a circle like a halo of brown. Wreathing the farmhouse and spattering the windows with dirty fingerprints. Inside the house is a family that can't breathe because the muck is plugging up the chimney and seeping over the hinges of the doors. Not even the fireplace can manage to burn through this unending wall of brown, so how can these suffocating people hope to survive?

Now, this isn't a farmhouse anymore. This is a body. And this body belongs to a young man who shouldn't ever have to worry about anything but the occasional storm. But the storms have come and rained scarlet and fire—storms of war, and race, and blind hatred and prejudice—and the mud slid down to stop up his doorway. So, if a sturdy farmhouse with a foundation gets stuck in the mud, how can a solitary man hope to get out?

Ronsel Jackson is black. This is a simple fact that should not, under any circumstances, affect him or his family, any more than a Blue Jay is affected by the color of its wings. But unlike the Jay, who will continue to fly, regardless of its appearance, Ronsel's wings have been clipped—or, more accurately, burned by the flames of war and injustice. He has fought alongside his comrades, and has died their deaths a thousand times. And somehow, he has managed to keep himself together; out of the mud.

In fact, he's managed to do more than this. He's found love with a woman who hardly speaks his language, and couldn't care less that the color of his skin differs from her own. And when he has to leave her behind amid a flurry of complications and controversy, he fights. He holds his head high. He leaves behind what he wants most, because society will not allow him to have it.

Where is Ronsel to go, when he can't even walk through the front door of a store without discrimination? How is he supposed to swim if everyone seeks to drown him further? What kind of a journey leads you in a backwards loop, taking you forward into the mess of everything you left behind?

Through no device of his choosing, Ronsel is mud bound by the color of his own skin. He struggles under the bias exhibited towards him and his community at large. However, Ronsel constantly pushes towards what he knows is right; a future where color won't matter anymore, and where freedom is as common as grass.

His character is one that many people will be able to identify with. A soldier. A fighter. A father, a friend. A lover, a brother, a farmer and a son. He is someone as human as you or I, and yet he lives in a world so radically different from our own, that we have a difficult time understanding exactly how extreme his circumstances are.

Though there are many stories of prejudice in the American South, Hillary Jordan's Mudbound seeks to best them all. With excellent skills in characterization, she succeeds in writing to life a character whose story has, unfortunately, been lived time and time again.

Mudbound is an aptly titled novel not only because it reflects the external struggle of the World War II-era American South, but the internal struggle of a suffering people. It paints a stark picture in sepia tones of blood and life and what happens when people let their false principles get the best of them. Mudbound opens a door which few people want to walk through, mainly because it opens from a path covered with mud, and no one wants to dirty their shoes.

But it we're afraid of the mud, how are we to become unstuck?

Author's Website
Buy it on Amazon


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