Thursday, March 27, 2008


Hillary Jordan spent fifteen years working as an advertising copywriter before starting to write fiction. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary journals, including StoryQuarterly and The Carolina Quarterly.

Jordan applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, the 2006 Bellwether Prize-winning Mudbound, and reported the following:
Mudbound is set on a farm in the Jim Crow South in the 1940s. It's told in the voices of six different characters from two families: the McAllans, the white family that owns the farm, and their black tenant farmers, the Jacksons. The issue of speech—who gets to speak and who is silent or silenced—is at the core of the book, and page 69 is both an excellent example of how this conflict is played out and a foreshadowing of the bigger, more violent conflicts to come.

The narrator is Laura McAllan, whose husband Henry has just moved her from her comfortable home in Memphis to this dilapidated farm with no running water, electricity or telephone. Up to page 69, Laura has been a biddable Southern wife, bowing to her husband's wishes and keeping her true feelings about the move to herself. But when her father-in-law suggests that they get rid of her most prized possession, her piano, to make room for a bed for himself, Laura's long-held silence gives way to fury. She takes her husband out to the porch and delivers this speech:

“When you told me you were bringing me here, away from my people and everything I’ve ever known, I didn’t say a word. When you informed me your father was coming to live with us, I went along. When Orris Stokes stood there and told you you’d been fleeced by that man you rented the house from, I kept my mouth shut. But I’m telling you now, Henry, we’re not getting rid of that piano. It’s the one civilized thing in this place, and I want it for the girls and myself, and we’re keeping it. So you can just go back in there and tell your father he can sleep in the lean-to. Either that or he can sleep in the bed with you, because I am not staying here without my piano.”

Page 69 ends with Laura staring Henry down, as astonished by her own temerity as he is. This is her first open rebellion against him, but it won't be her last...
Read an excerpt from Mudbound, and learn more about the author and her work at Hillary Jordan's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue