25 July 2008

"Mudbound" SIR

Hillary Jordan's novel "Mudbound" has won the Bellwether Prize awarded by Barbara Kingsolver to literature promoting "social justice," and it's not hard to see why. This is the kind of ironclad didactic of liberal guilt that seems destined to find another life as a Paul Haggis screenplay.

There is still something to be said for it, however. Jordan's ambitious,. off-beat point-of-view rotation between six different characters mostly works. Unfortunately, while the six characters are easily distinguishable from each other, they aren't much distinguishable from their archetype. Only two really flower on the page; Laura, living an unexpected life as a servile farm wife, and Jamie, her suave, cocksure brother-in-law driven to near-madness by the Second World War.

The three African-American characters asked to carry the narrative are also a disappointment, primarily because Jordan can't write them as anything other than flawless martyrs. Were they lesser characters in the story this could be overlooked, but when given first-person narratives it comes out bland and easy. The book's main human antagonist, a gruff, sour old bigot, is also a caricature, but Jordan elects to leave his psyche untapped. That's too bad.

Verdict: C+