Friday, November 12, 2010

Book Review: Mudbound

I finished Mudbound by Hillary Jordan last week, but am only now organizing my thoughts about it enough to write a review.  The problem:  I'm conflicted about this book.  I really thought I'd like it and there were definitely aspects of it I enjoyed a lot, but overall it's not a book I'd ever re-read and it's not one I'd probably recommend to friends.

On the cover, Barbara Kingsolver calls it "storytelling at the height of its powers," and perhaps that should have been my first clue.  I loved Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, but have found her other novels to be very hit and miss.

Mudbound does have an interesting plot.  I was drawn in by the storyline of the main character, Laura, but not the character herself, who remains almost annoyingly static.  I guess I wanted her character to show more depth, demonstrate on even the smallest level that the circumstances she found herself faced with had caused some level of growth or change.

Not only that, the character of Laura is nearly the only one I didn't find to be basically a stock character.  Her husband, Henry, is a typical southern farmer; her father in law Pappy is nothing more than a stereotyped KKK racist; Florence, her black maid is a stereotypical strong, black, maternal figure -- in touch with nature and superstitious; and I could go on.  I did like the characters of Ronsel and Jamie, though I think their friendship could have been developed in far greater detail.  I particularly liked Ronsel's experiences in Germany during WWII.  His descriptions of seeing the emaciated and dying prisoners in the concentration camps reminded me of stories I've heard from older veterans.

The novel is told from the perspective of several characters, each getting a section to narrate in 1st person. I like that effect for some of the characters (Ronsel in particular), but for most I kept hoping it would give me more of a sense of the individual character and that just didn't really happen.   I will say this for the book -- I finished it.  And in its own way, that says something for it.  These days, my time is so tight, that I'll just put down a book that doesn't hold my attention well.  Mudbound was a mixed bag.  The plot was interesting and I kept reading till the end, but I was frustrated along the way and wanted more than just a driving plot.

On a funny note, it probably also says something that I kept calling the book "Mudblood" (the magical world's most racist comment in the Harry Potter series).  In the long run, J.K. Rowling's wizarding insult will likely stick with me longer than this novel.

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