The Moaner's Bench

By Mars Hill
(HarperCollins, Hardcover, 9780060191023, 384pp.)

Publication Date: October 1998

Other Editions of This Title: Paperback

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Description
The window shades to the outside world began to rise. I would soon be eight. I searched the heavens on starlit nights for the Dippers...I searched for the North Star and found it. Papa knew exactly where it was. If I had had to think about it at all, I'm sure I would have thought it would remain that way. I knew no other way, but at home with Mama and Papa. I had heard Uncle Pet say that he had taken his money out of the banks. I hadn't lived long enough to recognize the real meaning of those warnings.

The Moaner's Bench is a powerful novel that distills a lifetime of experience into the story of an African-American boy coming of age in the Depression-era South. Sun Hughes is the youngest child in a middle-class Baptist family. Protected by his parents' affluence, his life is sheltered and full of wonder--but when the Depression hits, the family's fortunes wane, and Sun's innocence is lost as well.

Sent to live with his Uncle Pet, a proud and zealous Baptist who decides to make sure his nephew "gets religion," Sun grows up--and grows wise--as the world his Mama and Papa kept at a distance slowly comes into focus, in stark black and white.

A moaner's bench, literally, is a bench on which sinners must kneel in the Baptist church while waiting for the Spirit to strike them into repentance. To repent--and to understand what one is repenting for--one must first acknowledge that a sin has been committed at a given place and time, and then wrestle with the truth of the evidence. This experience of searching for the truth is the first step toward healing. The Moaner's Bench is ultimately a story of healing--healing within oneself, healing between oneself and another, and healing within a nation.

Rendered in lyrical prose and suffused with a sly sense of humor, The Moaner's Bench brings to life a time and place that has had a profound impact upon this nation and enables us, through the eyes of Sun Hughes, to understand our past--and ourselves--more clearly.

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