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Mudbound: My take on the book by Hillary Jordan [review] #book2movies

I shared a clip of Hillary Jordan reading the first chapter of her 2011 debut novel a couple of months back. Now the movie is about to come out countrywide in November and I’ve just finished the book. I find myself awed and humbled by the grace of Jordan’s writing.

It’s not an easy subject—an ugly band of racism forms the core—and the characters she has created are so deep and complex, it makes an aspiring novelist like me want to run and hide under the floorboards. 

Here’s how the publisher describes Jordan’s novel
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. 
 "They called us “Eleanor Roosevelt’s nigger.’’~Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) with Jamie (Garrett Hedlund)

The key word here is inexorable. Inescapable, unstoppable. In the environment that Jordan writes about, the rules for society are set in stone. No one—not the black sharecropper family and certainly not white farmer owners—would dream of changing them. One does not cross the color bar. The two men who do, Ronsel and Jamie, have both been to Europe, fighting in the war. They’ve seen the world can work a little differently, with white women and black men dancing together, and probably more. Neither one of them believes it will ever be that way here in the states. Especially not in the Mississippi Delta. 

They are both aware of the stakes when they cross the boundaries, entering into a kind of friendship in an era when just that, friendship between the races, is an impossible dream.

“When I think of the farm, I think of mud.’’~Laura (Carey Mulligan)

Jordan writes from several character points of view in alternating chapters although it is Laura’s voice that resonates the loudest. We want what she wants, a decent home for herself and her children, a husband who appreciates her, a husband who fulfills her. Since we relate to Laura, we project our feelings, our values on to her. That’s part of the heartbreak of the book too. Like the title Mudbound infers, the characters, including Laura, are all stuck in their notions about how the world works. Its sadness lies in the fact that none of them, even those that want to, can see how to change it.

“I answered the only way I could, by starching his sheets till they was as stiff and scratchy as raw planks.’’~Florence (Mary K. Blige) 

Mudbound is a beautifully written novel about racism, about ptsd, about love, about denial and delusion. A book that makes you hurt and makes you think. From what I hear, the film will do the same.

Mudbound is set for release on November 17 on Netflix. So many good movies coming to our TVs! Plenty of time for you to read the book, if you haven’t already. 

Let’s watch the trailer...

Are you in?