Early in the second chapter of Hillary Jordan's brilliant new novel Mudbound, one of her leading characters, Laura, says, "I suppose the beginning depends on who's telling the story. No doubt the others would start somewhere different, but they'd still wind up at the same place in the end." And this is the key to the book's whole structure. We have just seen the end. In Chapter One we saw Laura's husband and his younger brother digging a grave on their farm, a grave seven feet deep in what seems to have been total mud. They were burying their father, who did not, it is hinted, die from natural causes. How this end came about we are told in the following chapters, each of which is narrated by one of the others. This is of course a structure similar to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, but the comparison need not stop there. Hillary Jordan writes with the same slow-burning intensity and this area of the Mississippi Delta is struck by the same tragedies, the same storms - meteorological, emotional and racial - as any in Yoknapatawpha County. Two young men have returned to the Delta from serving in World War Two: Laura's young brother-in-law and the son of one of the black share-cropping families who work on her husband's land. They have seen a different world and no longer fit in to this bigoted and racist community. They become friends. But the young black is seen to be riding in the passenger seat of his friend's pick-up truck instead of in the back where he belongs, and that is cause enough for all that follows. It is a violent and brutal story but told with understanding and compassion. Mudbound won the Bellwether prize for fiction, a prize awarded biennially to a first literary novel that addresses issues of social justice. and I feel sure that there will be many more prizes won by this outstandingly gifted writer. Neil Curry
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