It's not very often take I take note of a book, pick it up at the bookstore, and read it a week later. I generally like to hem and haw a bit but occasionally, the stars align and I actually buy the right book at the right moment and just get on with it.
That book was Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, first time novelist.
Mudbound takes place in Mississippi just after WW2. The McAllens, a white family, have just bought a farm out in the country where the black Jackson family live as sharecroppers. The Jackson's eldest son Ronsel has just arrived from serving his country in Europe where he experienced for the first time in his life what it was to be just a man, not a black man. It's hard to imagine what it would be like to come home after that and adjust to life as a second class citizen - we have that chance here. Ronsel begins what seems to everyone else like an unlikely relationship with Jamie McAllen, brother of farm-owner Henry. These men understand one another like no one else around can as they've both just returned from war.
Because Jordan has chosen to give us first person accounts from a variety of characters, we know that Henry's wife Laura is less than thrilled with her new life in the country. We know how Ronsel's parents feel about the McAllens and their life on the farm. What is striking about the characters in Mudbound is that Jordan has not made them any better than they are. The McAllens are just as racist as you'd expect a family at this time period to be. They've been brought up to believe that black people are..different. The elder Jackson's have learned how to live in this world, showing subservience when it eases the struggle.
As I came to expect, a great drama unfolded in the latter part of Mudbound. What came to be was so shocking and beyond reality that as I read the words my eyes shut, I said out loud 'Oh my God' and closed the book.
Mudbound is not a perfect book, but it is absolutely spellbinding. It's the sort of book you begin to read and suddenly you've read 100 pages and the next thing you know you've finished. It's the sort of book that creates an atmosphere from which it's difficult to surface. It's astonishing really, to read something like this from a first time novelist. Hillary Jordan is an author to watch.