Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Mudbound (copy)

My name is Mrs. Henry McAllan, but most people call me Laura. For a long time, 31 years, it was Miss. Chappell, and I was okay with that. I earned a college degree in English and began teaching, letting my students pull me through life, never once becoming low for the children I would never have. I was quite comfortable in my old maid(ness).

Henry is handsome, quiet, and college educated. My brother Teddy brought him to dinner because they got along so well at work. At 41 years, Henry was working for the Corps of Engineers building bridges, levees, and airports in the outlying area of Memphis. Well, from the looks I gathered at dinner, he was ready to build a fence around me. How little did I know.

We married, settled down in our own house in Memphis, and I had two little girls. Things again were comfortable until December 25, 1945. On arrival to the annual Christmas dinner at the home of Henry’s sister, Eboline, in Greenville, Mississippi, we were affronted by Pappy, my cantankerous father-in-law who informed us, “Eboline’s husband’s gone and ruint Christmas, killing himself on the eve of Jesus’ birth.”

After weeks of settling Eboline’s affairs, Henry returned home in a new truck. Before I could quiz him, he shocked me with a passionate kiss. This is not my Henry, something was foul. He then blurted out, “I’ve bought a farm!”

The plan was simple. Live in a rental house close to Eboline in Greenville, and Henry would commute to the farm 40 miles away. Pappy would be moving in with us, since Eboline’s move to a smaller house, and I would put up with his criticism of me and the girls.

The rental house was a two-story Victorian with wrap-around porch and azaleas in front. As we climbed the steps, we noticed a light on. While Henry worked the key, a man opened the door from inside, and he wasn’t happy. See, the house was sold to him the previous week which made us trespassers.

Out of 300 dollars and forced to live in one of the sharecropper's houses on the farm, I’m not happy. Matter-of-fact, I’m constantly angry. Dang dirt is in our clothes, laying atop all the furniture, and giving us all tans. Even my tow-colored sweet babies have brown hair. When Henry suggests we call the place “Fair Fields” my mumbled answer becomes family legend. “More like Mudbound.”

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is one of the best southern novels I have read in years. Better than The Secret Life of Bees, she has successfully written a racial tale akin to Flannery O’Connor and Erskine Caldwell. The perfect book for discussion, too.

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