Mudas Summers is on the brink of adulthood — seventeen years old, with a set of car keys in one hand and all sorts of confusion about the truth of her mother’s death in the other. Liar’s Bench by Kim Michele Richardson explores the power of truth, the strength of love, and the ability to move past bad choices to find peace.
Set in 1972, Richardson takes full advantage of the tumultuous history of the time. Civil rights and women’s rights are entwined in Liar’s Bench, and the juxtaposition of past and present are crucial to the storyline and the emotional fabric of the novel.
When Mudas’s mother is found hanging in her home, the authorities are on the verge of considering it a suicide, though Mudas is insistent her mother would never take her own life. Her family’s past haunts her as she grieves, and she lashes out at her father, reminding him of how his actions divided their small family and possibly set her mother’s death in motion. Armed with only her car and on the verge of taking a relationship from friendship to something more, she finds herself searching for the truth about her mother’s death — and her father’s role in it.
As she strides toward evidence that will explain her mother’s actions, she stumbles over another truth, one that has the potential to rewrite the history of the entire town.
Social issues are woven into the plot line, giving Richardson’s novel beautiful depth that extends well beyond the story of Mudas and her family. Mudas is barraged from all sides with issues like trying to navigate her athletic ability — she’s a superb runner — in a world unsure about female athletes while entering a relationship with a classmate of mixed racial background, which is fraught with tension in rural Kentucky.
The setting of Liar’s Bench, a small town straddling the line between the Midwest and the Deep South, is perfect for the story Richardson tells. Like Mudas herself, who’s straddling the line between youth and adulthood, there are many thin lines in Liar’s Bench, and Richardson strives to address each of those while keeping her narrative flowing.
The language of Liar’s Bench is lovely, which makes some of the horrors of the plot even more powerful. Richardson adeptly uses the sense of smell in visceral ways throughout the story to bring the reader more fully into the world she’s crafted. Her characters are authentic, and sometimes raw, in a way that kept me turning the pages well past when I thought I’d put down my book for the night.
I loved the glimpse she gives into the world of the early 1970s, especially because Liar’s Bench provides much opportunity for conversations about how things have changed for minorities since then — if they have at all, or if the prejudices and biases are just more carefully covered in the present day.
Disclosure: I received a copy of Liar’s Bench for consideration for review. I do not automatically review every book I receive for consideration, and all opinions are my own.