By Hillary Jordan
328 pages. Algonquin Books. $22.95.
In Hillary Jordan’s first novel, the forces of change and resistance collide with terrible consequences. Set in Mississippi just after World War II, the story is told by a chorus of narrators who alternate throughout the book: Laura McAllan, whose husband, Henry, has moved her from her city life in Memphis to a Mississippi Delta farm; Henry himself; his charming drunken brother Jamie; and the farm’s share tenants, Florence and Hap Jackson and their son Ronsel, a veteran who fought in Europe. It is a novel of place as much as people. “Here was a long, rickety house with a warped tin roof and shuttered windows that had neither glass nor screens,” Ms. Jordan writes of Laura’s first view of the farm. “Here was a dirt yard with a pump in the middle of it, shaded by a large oak tree that had somehow managed to escape razing by the original steaders. Here was a barn, a pasture, a cotton house, a corncrib, a pig wallow, a chicken coop and an outhouse.
“Here was our new home.”
The book won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for Fiction, which goes to an unpublished manuscript that addresses issues of social justice. The $25,000 prize is awarded in even-numbered years; it was founded and is financed by the writer Barbara Kingsolver.