‘Mudbound’ a binding agent
Posted by: Kaite Stover
Recently the Downtowners Book Group at The Kansas City Public Library discussed one of my favorite book group titles, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. This book has a compelling plot, realistic characters, and a solid pace. It would be a good choice for mystery book groups looking for something different.
I’ve used this book in discussion groups before and it’s never fallen flat. The Downtowners were no different. They liked the debut novel very much, however, they weren’t afraid to point out obvious “first novel flaws.”
Jordan’s first published work is a winner of the Bellwether Prize and also an Alex Award. The Bellwether Prize winner receives $25,000 and a book deal with a major publishing house. The catch to this prize is the manuscript must be unpublished (that’s part of the prize package).
Mudbound is set in the post-war Deep South and addresses themes of betrayal, racism, redemption and passion. Laura, a college-educated woman from Memphis, travels to rural Mississippi with her daughters and husband to his family farm. Crammed in a too-small shack, city-bred Laura must soon adapt to country-life ways and all under the eye of her hateful, racist father-in-law.
The Downtowners immediately focused on the title. They wanted to discuss how the mud is a binding agent for all the characters. It binds them to each other, an unforgiving plot of land, untenable situations and relationships with the tenant African-American tenant farmers, and to a culture that recognizes it’s racism, but is at a loss to do anything about it.
Other topics the group enjoyed discussing are voice, who has it and who does not, and the definition of ‘Southern’ justice. A short list of our discussion questions and topics follow for any book group interested in taking on this fast-paced historical novel.
1. The only major character who doesn’t have a chapter told in his voice is Pappy. How does this impact the story and/or your impressions of him?
2. Does the reference to the Holocaust add or detract from the novel? How does it help the reader understand the character of Ronsel?
3. How would you define ‘southern’ justice?
4. Who is primarily responsible for Pappy’s death?
Readalikes suggested by the Downtowners: A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J. Gaines; To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; The Piano Lesson by August Wilson; The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck; The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town by Jacqueline Guidry.