“Mudbound” – A Movie Based on a Novel that Did Not Write Itself

A pretty redhead took the barstool next to me at Gigi’s Trattoria located on a main thoroughfare of Rhinebeck, a tony escape village close to an Amtrak station affording seamless getaways for wealthy New Yorkers seeking bucolic environs. She sipped a cocktail. The year was 2006.

Something about her demeanor struck me as something akin to subdued elation. A little time passed before we became engaged in conversation. She introduced herself as Hillary Jordan, the author of a novel titled “Mudbound” which had just been published after winning the Bellwether Prize. The Bellwether was created by novelist Barbara Kingsolver to recognize an unpublished work of fiction that addresses issues of social justice.

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Hillary Jordan

Hillary gave me a spare yet tight plot summary of her debut novel that suggested she had been through the pitch dozens of times before – no doubt making the case for consideration to any number of literary agents and publishers. And she described the many trials and tribulations endured along the way: how the publisher made her excise hundreds of pages from the manuscript and directed her to rewrite sections wholesale. Hillary did take pride in maintaining control of at least one aspect: the name of the book. You see, the story takes place chiefly on a farm in the Mississippi delta right after World War II – a muddy plot of land that maintains a powerful grip on its occupants. To her, the word “mudbound” said it all. I don’t recall exactly what title the publisher preferred, but I’m sure it was unremarkable.

Sometime later I purchased a first edition copy at Oblong Books around the corner from Gigi’s. (I suspect Hillary was enjoying that cocktail following a satisfying meeting with the Oblong people about the details of her upcoming reading.) Hillary signed books at Oblong, read an excerpt from her novel, and answered questions. I posed one: would she write another book that continues the stories of the characters in “Mudbound.” After all, she had created memorable characters whose stories were not over when “Mudbound” concluded. Her body language indicated her relationship with the subject was largely over. “No,” she said, explaining that she had on the drawing board a completely different subject for her next book which would come out in 2011. Titled “When She Woke,” her second novel certainly was a departure from the first.

Ten years after that brief encounter at Gigi’s I read that “Mudbound” was going to be made into a Netflix movie – and yes, perhaps through Hillary’s persistence, the title of the story remained intact from book to film. “Mudbound” the movie has been nominated for several awards including a Golden Globe for best supporting actress, a SAG award for best ensemble cast, and a Writer Guild of America for best adapted screenplay.

In Friday’s edition of the New York Times, Netflix ran one of those “for your consideration” ads touting “Mudbound” as a candidate for best picture and best supporting actress. The ad also pushed the movie for consideration for best adapted screenplay by Dee Rees and Virgil Williams.

Nowhere in the full-page spread was there a mention of Hillary Jordan as the author of the novel on which the movie was based. And given that Netflix thinks the screenwriters are worthy of Oscars, it’s unseemly that the original writer would not merit a citation. But that often seems to be the lot of the writer whose sole contribution is merely the entire superstructure of the product on the screen.

Rolling Blunder

An elderly woman in a wheelchair tried to ride a descending escalator at Portland’s airport the other day with predictable results.

From the surveillance video it appears the woman hesitated for a second before concluding it was not worth the extra 30 seconds to seek out an elevator. Her family is suing Alaska Airlines which manages the concourse where the fatal tumble occurred. Many people might question how the family thinks they could prevail given that the recording shows no malfeasance or negligence on the part of the airline.

But forget that. The better question to ask would be, “How did someone so stupid manage to live so long?”

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