Excerpt from Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Mudbound

By Hillary Jordan

Mudbound
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2008,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2009,
    336 pages.

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Then I felt the first drops of rain hit my face. “Henry!” I yelled.

The rain was falling lightly now, but before long it would be a downpour. The water would start filling up the hole. I’d feel it creeping up my legs to my thighs. To my chest. To my neck. “Henry! Laura!”

I threw myself at the walls of the grave like a maddened bear in a pit. Part of me was outside myself, shaking my head at my own foolishness, but the man was powerless to help the bear. It wasn’t the confinement; I’d spent hundreds of hours in cockpits with no problem at all. It was the water. During the war I’d avoided flying over the open ocean whenever I could, even if it meant facing flak from the ground. It was how I won all those medals for bravery: from being so scared of that vast, hungry blue that I drove straight into the thick of German antiaircraft fire.

I was yelling so hard I didn’t hear Henry until he was standing right over me. “I’m here, Jamie! I’m here!” he shouted. He lowered the ladder into the hole and I scrambled up it. He tried to take hold of my arm, but I waved him off. I bent over, my hands on my knees, trying to slow the tripping of my heart.

“You all right?” he asked.

I didn’t look at him, but I didn’t have to. I knew his forehead would be puckered and his mouth pursed?—?his “my brother, the lunatic” look.

“I thought maybe you’d decided to leave me down there,” I said, with a forced laugh.

“Why would I do that?”

“I’m just kidding, Henry.” I went and took up the ladder, tucking it under one arm. “Come on, let’s get this over with.” We hurried across the fields, stopping at the pump to wash the mud off our hands and faces, then headed to the barn to get the coffin. It was a sorry-looking thing, made of mismatched scrap wood, but it was the best we’d been able to do with the materials we had. Henry frowned as he picked up one end. “I wish to hell we’d been able to get to town,” he said.

“Me too,” I said, thinking of the whiskey.

We carried the coffin up onto the porch. When we went past the open window Laura called out, “You’ll want hot coffee and a change of clothes before we bury him.”

“No,” said Henry. “There’s no time. Storm’s coming.”

We took the coffin into the lean-to and set it on the rough plank floor. Henry lifted the sheet to look at our father’s face one last time. Pappy’s expression was tranquil. There was nothing to show that his death was anything other than the natural, timely passing of an old man.

I lifted the feet and Henry took the head. “Gently now,” he said.

“Right,” I said, “we wouldn’t want to hurt him.”

“That’s not the point,” Henry snapped.

“Sorry, brother. I’m just tired.”

With ludicrous care, we lowered the corpse into the coffin. Henry reached for the lid. “I’ll finish up here,” he said. “You go make sure Laura and the girls are ready.”

“All right.”

As I walked into the house I heard the hammer strike the first nail, a sweet and final sound. It made the children jump. “What’s that banging, Mama?” asked Amanda Leigh.

“That’s your daddy, nailing Pappy’s coffin shut,” Laura said.

“Will it make him mad?” Bella’s voice was a scared whisper.

Laura shot me a quick, fierce glance. “No, darling,” she said. “Pappy’s dead. He can’t get mad at anyone ever again. Now, let’s get you into your coats and boots. It’s time to lay your grandfather to rest.”

I was glad Henry wasn’t there to hear the satisfaction in her voice.

Excerpted from Mudbound by Hillary Jordan Copyright © 2008 by Hillary Jordan. Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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