When Henry McAllen 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 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 McAllens are being tested in every way, two celebrated soldiers of World War II return home to help work the farm. Jamie McAllen is everything his older brother Henry is not: charming, handsome, and sensitive to Laura’s plight, but also haunted by the memories of combat. Ronsel Jackson, eldest son of the black sharecroppers who live on the McAllen farm, comes home from fighting the Nazis with personal–and dangerous–battles against the ingrained bigotry of his own countryman. It is the unlikely friendship of these 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.
Mudbound is a powerful story that sucked me in as sure as the muck surrounding the family farm. Laura, married late in life (according to 1940’s standards) is happy to have found a husband. Even if Henry is not overly affectionate he is a solid man and he does love Laura and the two daughters they have together.
When an opportunity to purchase a run down farm presents itself, Henry jumps at the chance to do something he’s always wanted to do, work the land, and purchases it without consulting Laura. Unhappy with his decision, but determined to obediently follow her husband, she packs her piano and the rest of their belongings and heads for the Mississippi farmland with it’s rich black soil.
So starts a new chapter in her life. Living with her hateful father-in-law without electricity and indoor plumbing is a challenge, but with the help of Florence, their black sharecropper’s wife she makes do and ekes out an existence. It’s when Henry’s brother Jamie, and Florence and Hap’s son Ronsel comes back from the war that the story really takes a turn. The two unlikely friends form a powerful bond during a time when it’s dangerous to do so that threatens the balance of life on the McAllen farm.
Each chapter is narrated by a different character in the novel; Laura, Henry, Hap, Florence, Jamie and Ronsel. Told in their point of view evokes different feelings for each of them then you might have had told only by Laura’s point of view, and that’s what makes this story so powerful and gripping.
I absolutely loved this tragic, heartbreaking novel. Perfect for a book club to explore the themes of bigotry, love, hate, forgiveness, obedience and duty this is a book that I will definitely be recommending at the Bookies next meeting. 5/5 stars