This glorious debut novel is one of an unexpectedly fine crop of recent and *new Southern fiction. It confronts the tragic persistence of racism and the resilient, transcendent power of the human spirit. It is at once a story of young love, of traditions both poisonous and healing, and of murder. It is a brilliantly managed game played on a 100-plus year field whose goal posts are two hangings.
In 1860, a Black slave named Frannie Crow is charged by her mistress, Evelyn Anderson, with thievery and attempted murder by poison. Innocent Frannie was hung, and her son Amos was assigned the task of building a bench for the town square from the best pieces of oak and the best hardware that could be stripped from the gallows. The name “Square’s Bench” over time was replaced by “Liar’s Bench,” because of “its legacy of misfortune drawn from lies.” It is the multivalent icon of Peckinpaw, Kentucky.
112 years later, the Liar’s Bench continues to serve as a seat for both honest and deceitful promise making. Mudas “Muddy” Summers, daughter of the town prosecutor, experiences a very tumultuous 17th birthday. At an uncertain distance from the dizzying occurrences, she narrates her tribulations in a clear, powerful, and perfectly tuned voice.
Mudas’s mother, Ella, who had divorced her daughter’s father Adam over his infidelities, had then married an abusive bully, eventually moving with Tommy to Chicago and leaving Mudas feeling abandoned. Ella finds ways of still being supportive and moves back to Peckinpaw to be nearby. She works at various jobs including bookkeeping for a rich, crude good ole boy, McGee, who is running illegal businesses and blackmailing those whom he has pulled into debt or worse. When McGee’s incriminating business ledger for the Rooster Run disappears, his enforcer threatens Ella.
On Mudas’s birthday, her mother is found hung. . . .
To read the entire review, click here:Southern Literary Review — “Liar’s Bench,” by Kim Michele Richardson
*Other books of note include Laura Lee Smith’s Heart of Palm, reviewed elsewhere on this blog, and Steph Post’s A Tree Born Crooked, to be reviewed in late May.