Mudbound begins in a slow moving way. It seemed rather dull to me at first, and took me a while to get into. In fact, if it hadn’t been a selection for my book club I probably would not have finished it.
It begins with two brothers digging a grave in the pouring rain for their father. We then go to flashback, narrated first by Laura, the daughter-in-law of the deceased. Other characters are gradually introduced, and the stories of the main characters are told through their own voices. In fact, much of the book is the introduction of each of the characters. So, we’re waiting and waiting for the action to begin.
Two of the characters, Jamie and Ronsel, are returning World War II heroes. Jamie was a pilot, and Ronsel was a tank commander. While they have much in common, including what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder, they are separated by the great divide of race which, in 1940’s Mississippi, is all-important. Their experiences during and after the war contribute to the plot advancement of this novel.
Laura and Henry own a farm in Mississippi. While Henry loves farming and farm life, Laura has nicknamed the farm “Mudbound”. She is stuck in a ramshackle farm house with her two young daughters and Henry’s father, Pappy. When Jamie returns from Europe, he joins their household. Ronsel is the son of Florence and Hap, Henry’s tenant farmers.
So the events of the novel lead eventually to the death of Pappy. Unfortunately we never hear Pappy’s voice. He really is the central character. I get that he’s dead from the start of the novel and therefore can make no contribution to the flashbacks. And yes, he is a mean, ornery racist, but if the book were structured differently, we might have had some insight into his character. He remains two-dimensional and dull. I just think the main character should be more interesting.
So-I recommend Mudbound, but not whole heartedly.
Published in hardcover-Algonquin-2008