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The Moaner's Bench Hardcover – September 23, 1998


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1st edition (September 23, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060191023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060191023
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #944,891 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An eye for detail ("A long string of okrafied spit hung stubbornly from his lip") and an ear for regional speech ("Don't look at me in that tone er voice") are the most satisfying features of this rambling but ingratiating debut about an African American boyhood in Depression-era Arkansas. At 13, Sun Hughes comes to live with his tyrannically religious Uncle Pet, owner of a general store in a small rural community. There he feels the strictures of Jim Crow, not to mention the pressure to conform to the born-again Baptist behavior expected of him as the scion of one of his town's most prominent families. He also feels the strength of sexual temptation, in the person of his precocious, beautiful cousin Saravania. After a strong opening section that provides copious local color, the novel moves back in time to chronicle the tortuous death of Sun's father, Andra, from diabetes, which blinds, then cripples him (in one terrifying scene, he soaks his infected and rotting feet in Lysol) before it takes his life. Pet's disappearance from the story leaves a hole that Hill never quite fills?and the other characters are forceful but not compelling, tied together by the episodes in which they appear rather than by any narrative momentum. Although such a loosely structured series of fictional reminiscences could have profited from a stronger editorial hand, the book, even at its most long-winded, is warm, funny and wonderfully observed. Author tour. (Oct.) FYI: Hill was an architectural engineer before he turned to writing fiction.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

"Retired architectural engineer Hill should not have waited so long in life to produce this first novel," exclaimed LJ's reviewer. At least he finally put pen to paper, producing a beautifully rendered coming-of-age tale about a young black boy in Depression-era Arkansas. This quietly successful novel won cheers wherever it was reviewed.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Booklover on January 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The narrator, Sun Hughes, describes coming of age as the son of a successful merchant in a community of black Baptists in rural Arkansas. His early life is idyllic. He plays with his bad-boy friend Ben, teases the girls at school, and peeps in the keyhole at his sister and her beau. Then the Depression hits, Sun's father dies, and Sun is sent to live with a harsh, self-righteous uncle. On the brink of manhood, Sun chafes against his new, restricted life, but he's still eager to face another day. Although it is billed as a novel, "The Moaner's Bench" appears to be a slightly fictionalized memoir. However, its scope is broader than that of most memoirs, encompassing not only the events in Sun's life, but the whole fabric of his community. It includes houses and cars; mules and goats and pigs; the Crash of 1929; harvests and locusts and rocky, red Arkansas clay. Best of all, it includes people. Sun's neighbors and relatives span the human spectrum. He knows strivers and loafers, cuckolds and polygamists, deacons and drunks. He knows Tuskegee graduates. He knows an ex-slave who prides himself on being able to calculate the product of 1250 and nine by taking a stick and adding 1250 nine times in the dirt. None of these characters are stock types. Each is allowed to reveal his or her rich, contradictory human complexity though action and speech. "Sorghum was like most fruits, vegetables, and nuts: each stalk had a different taste," Hill writes. In the same way, he notices and savors the uniqueness of each event, each person. Readers are lucky that a writer of such discernment and enthusiasm has applied his gifts to a piece of America's past.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jocelyn Davis on February 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book very much. It showed in-depth the hardships of Africa-Americans in the South during the Depression. The stories in the book were realistic and moving. It brought back memories of my childhood. The ending is tear-jerking but entertaining. Great story. I recommend this book to any reader.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 27, 1999
Format: Hardcover
"The Moaners Bench" depicts the strength, courage, and determination of a Black family and community is rural Arkansas. It is a coming of age story as told by the young narrator, Sun. The book opens with Sun in church on the moaners bench trying to find religion by praying for a miracle so that he can become one of the Faithful. The fact that his grandfather was one of the founders and the namesake of the church, and his uncle is the head deacon, only adds to the pressure Sun feels to find religion. From here, Sun then takes us back in time so that he can describe the events that brought him to the moaners bench. Sun's father comes from an established family and is highly respected within the community. He operates a general store along the pike and the family's home is located next door. The pike is the road traveled by many and they bring their "baggage" with them. The travelers and their circumstances are the source of many of the lessons learned not only by Sun, but by the community as well. It is just before the Great Depression and the Hughes family is prospering. Through Sun's eyes we see how the stock market crashed affected both his family and his community. It is through Sun's stories or "life events" that we are able to view Sun's family life and the events that help mold a boy into a man. The characters created by the author are brought to life by his use of language. Whether it is Sun's encounter with a baby rattler at the age of six or his escapades with his buddy, Ben, the author is able to make you feel as though you are there and takes the reader along for the ride. This book is rich in humor and other emotions.Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By K. P QUINN on November 25, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The Moaner's Bench by Mars Hill is the southern United States boy hood experience that Angela's Ashes is to the upbringing in Ireland from a young boy's perspective. The book, Hill's first, is filled with witty stories, excellent contrasts and an unfortunate realism of the Southern United States in the first part of the 20th Century. The book was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Mr. Hill's vivid explanations and interesting character development gives the reader a witty look at a strong and principled African-American family living in Arkansas in the early part of the 20th Century. Sun, the storyteller here, gives us the picture of a preacher father who could have a laugh with his children despite the difficulties surrounding him. Hill let's us laugh alongside Sun when he describes how his "papa" (M.A. Hughes) would play practical jokes on his children at their own expense. Keeping a child humble was an important part of M.A.'s job in the Moaner's Bench.

The contrast that Hill draws between a gritty old southern black smith "do-it-your-selfer" named Mr. Durbey and M.A., a smart supervisor of work gives us a vision of the time-honored Christmas classic it's a wonderful life where Frank Capra contrasts the likes of Mr. Potter and George Bailey so well. Durbey, as portrayed by Hill, is not as mean-spirited toward others as Capra portrays Potter, but the idea of how you live your life will impact what is said and who shows up at your funeral comes thorough loud and clear. Durby has no mourners at his funeral; Hughes has a packed house filled with spoken highlights of his positive life by folks who were bettered by MA.

Hill also vividly portrays the unfortunate reality that took place only a short time ago in the country that promised that all men are created equal.
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