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Liar's Bench

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In 1972, on Mudas Summers' seventeenth birthday, her beloved Mama, Ella, is found hanging from the rafters of their home. Most people in Peckinpaw, Kentucky, assume that Ella's no-good husband did the deed. Others think Ella grew tired of his abuse and did it herself. Muddy is determined to find out for sure either way, especially once she finds strange papers hidden amongst her mama's possessions.

But Peckinpaw keeps its secrets buried deep. Muddy's almost-more-than-friend, Bobby Marshall, knows that better than most. Though he passes for white, one of his ancestors was Frannie Crow, a slave hanged a century ago on nearby Hark Hill Plantation. Adorning the town square is a seat built from Frannie's gallows. A tribute, a relic--and a caution--it's known as Liar's Bench. Now, the answers Muddy seeks soon lead back to Hark Hill, to hatred and corruption that have echoed through the years--and lies she must be brave enough to confront at last.

Kim Michele Richardson's lush, beautifully written debut is set against a Southern backdrop passing uneasily from bigotry and brutality to hope. With its compelling mystery and complex yet relatable heroine, Liar's Bench is a story of first love, raw courage, and truths that won't be denied.

From Publishers Weekly

Feb 23, 2015 – Richardson, author of the memoir The Unbreakable Child, misses the target with this over-the-top debut novel, which details how a girl spends the days shortly after her 17th birthday searching for the truth about her mother's suspicious death. In a small Kentucky town in the early '70s, Mudas "Muddy" Summers is convinced that her long-suffering mother, Ella, didn't take her own life. When Ella's abusive boyfriend, Tommy Whitlock, turns up dead himself, Muddy homes in on villain Roy McGee, whom Muddy caught in an argument with her mom on the day she died. Meanwhile, racial tensions run high as a bigoted older white man, Harper, antagonizes Muddy's mixed-race beau, Bobby Marshall. Though Muddy isn't aware of it, folks seem to know that Bobby is descended from a slave who was hanged from gallows that were later made into the town's titular liar's bench. Richardson's flimsy plot hinges on plenty of convenient coincidences that strain belief. Her characterizations are flat and one-note, with baddies often descending into cartoonish hyperbole. The romance between Muddy and Bobby also falls flat, as Richardson attempts to squeeze a love story into an already disjointed narrative. Despite the book's faults, Richardson manages to put together a chilling view of race relations in the South. Sadly, this isn't enough to sustain this unsuccessful novel.

Customer Reviews

What Richardson does really well is the storytelling, even when the elements and characters muddled

3.5 stars, rounded
The hallmark, and oft referred to landmark in the small town of Peckinpaw Kentucky is the Liar’s Bench. Built from the remains of the gallows, it is built to remind townsfolk of the lies (mostly laid at the feet of racism) that caused the need for them in the first place. Now a century later, it appears that similar things are happening again –

What Richardson does really well is the storytelling, even when the elements and characters muddled slightly for me because of the different interconnections, the story was intriguing and wanted to be read. I think there was some dulling of the message and impact from the convoluted and not always pretty interpersonal reactions – racial tensions, histories, secrets long held and actual reasons forgotten. I would have preferred a more defined and less indecisive main character in Muddy. And the “passing for white” Bobby Marshall just frustrated me.

There are plenty of moments that do actually highlight this debut to make Richardson an author to watch. Experience, more focus on a few key issue rather than sidetracking with each new conflict or issue to explore it more fully and lose its impact in the exploration would have helped. Gods know, racism is a multi-layered, many headed hydra of a beast, and reasons are historical, societal, cultural, and emotional. Never an easy subject to tackle the broader issue, and while this was an admirable attempt in trying to pick out one element, others intruded and muddied the waters. I will, however, look forward to more by this author.

I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

Liar's Bench
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  • $6.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Fiction & Literature
  • Published: Apr 28, 2015
  • Publisher: Kensington
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 272 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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