I believe this was Hillary Jordan’s first novel, and it is certainly well worth reading. Here then we have a tragedy with a huge slice of southern gothic, all told in a multiple narrative form.
This story starts off with a death, and the attempt to dig a grave in the thick mud, before the rain returns. And thus we find ourselves in the Mississippi Delta region in 1946. As we are told what happened up unto the death Laura, a character here ponders when a story really starts, and indeed later in the book another character wonders when a story really ends, making us concentrate upon the fact that this is an incident in a life, and as we all know our lives are made up of incidents.
As Henry takes his wife and children from their relatively comfortable lives in Memphis he is relocating to the Delta, to start farming, which is in his blood. Due to his being conned so Laura and the girls find that they won’t be living in a house in town, but in the shack on the farmland, living near the tenants on some of the land that Henry now owns.
With men returning from the War so Henry awaits the return of his little brother, Jamie in the hopes that he will help out on the land, and black tenants on the land, the Jacksons, eagerly wait for the return of their eldest son, Ronsel to help them. But war does strange things to those who have fought and survived them, and both these men are changed. For Ronsel he has been treated as a normal person by Europeans, and not just another lowly black person. But back in Mississippi it is back to the racism and bigotry of every day, with segregation and being downtrodden.
With Henry and Jamie’s father living in the farm house, so the sons have to put up with him and his ways, and for Jamie the constant nagging he has to contend with. Taking us into the deep South of the period we can see the effects and humiliations felt by the black community, the harshness of lives working and living on farms, trying to scratch a living, as well as the various strains between family members.
Forging a powerful tale here, we are not only reminded of the horrors of war, and particularly those of the Second World War, but also the troubles caused by ignorance as regards racism and bigotry. With alcoholism and adultery added to the mix along with alienation, and an unforgiving life working on a farm this is something that once you start just pulls you in, bringing memorable characters and a landscape and period fully to life.
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