discovering Hillary Jordan
Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep. Any shallower and the corpse was liable to come rising up during the next big flood: Howdy boys! Remember me? The thought of it kept us digging even after the blisters on our palms had burst, re-formed and burst again. Every shovelful was an agony–the old man, getting in his last licks. Still, I was glad of the pain. It shoved away thought and memory.
When the hole got too deep for our shovels to reach bottom, I climbed down into it and kept digging while Henry paced and watched the sky. The soil was so wet from all the rain it was like digging into raw meat. I scraped it off the blade by hand, cursing at the delay. This was the first break we’d had in the weather in three days and could be out last chance for some while to get the body in the ground.
“Better hurry it up,” Henry said.
I looked at the sky. The clouds overhead were the color of ash, but there was a vast black mass of them to the north, and it was headed our way. Fast.
“We’re not gonna make it,” I said.
Remember Hillary Jordan. You will not be able to get Mudbound out of your mind (not that you will want to).
This is storytelling at its best.
In Hillary Jordan’s first novel, the forces of change and resistance collide with terrible consequences. Set in Mississippi just after World War II, the story is told by a chorus of narrators who alternate throughout the book: Laura McAllan, whose husband, Henry, has moved her from her city life in Memphis to a Mississippi Delta farm; Henry himself; his charming drunken brother Jamie; and the farm’s share tenants, Florence and Hap Jackson and their son Ronsel, a veteran who fought in Europe. It is a novel of place as much as people. “Here was a long, rickety house with a warped tin roof and shuttered windows that had neither glass nor screens,” Ms. Jordan writes of Laura’s first view of the farm. “Here was a dirt yard with a pump in the middle of it, shaded by a large oak tree that had somehow managed to escape razing by the original steaders. Here was a barn, a pasture, a cotton house, a corncrib, a pig wallow, a chicken coop and an outhouse.
“Here was our new home.”
The book won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction, which goes to an unpublished manuscript that addresses issues of social justice. The $25,000 prize is awarded in even-numbered years; it was founded and is financed by the writer Barbara Kinsolver.