bookI have always had a fondness for great, sprawling epics, especially if they chronicle the downfall of a family/dynasty that acquired great power and wealth only to destroy themselves through ruthless acts involving betrayal, greed and arrogance. Invariably, they build mansions, acquire awesome estates and develop a lifestyle that allowed them to move through a cosmopolitan world of wealth and privilege; yet invariably they come crashing down, destroyed by drugs, alcoholism and/or moral rot.

By Newton Smith • Contributor

Gary Carden, local bard, playwright, host of the Liars Bench and reviewer for The Smoky Mountain News, has once again come up with a surprising publication. 

bookLet me begin by saying that this is a remarkable novel, and I suspect that it will be around for a long time as critics debate its literary significance. In fact, there are passionate debates in some of the current major literary magazines about such themes as Friedrich Nietzsche’s “the eternal return” and/or Yeats’ apocalyptic vision. This review will avoid such heavy freight.

op cardenEditor’s note: Marie Cochran attended the production of the “Liar’s Bench” on June 20 at the Mountain Heritage Center on the WCU campus and wrote this review for The Smoky Mountain News.

I am very familiar with the term “the Liars Bench” in its practice of casual storytelling among Southern men sitting in the courthouse square and at barbershops; yet I was skeptical to hear this lighthearted phrase associated with the account of 19 Black men who drowned on a chain gang only decades after the Civil War.

As a disclaimer, for the last month I’ve been a witness to the assemblage of information and a participant in debates that raged about the proper way to engage a diverse audience. Yet, I waited like every other audience member wondering whether “Tears in the Rain” would be told as a gruesome ghost story, a sorrowful tale of faceless men who perished in an unfortunate accident, or an insightful portrayal of a human tragedy.

bookThere is something about carnivals, amusement parks and shoddy summer circus operations that inspire a special kind of supernatural tale. Certainly, a reader who has read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) or Charles G. Finney’s classic work, The Circus of Doctor Lao (1935), is familiar with the carney sensation that blends expectancy and unease.

bookRobert Morgan has a rare and cunning gift: he can sift through the detritus of the past, pluck objects and images from his memory (especially his childhood) and elevate them to the point where they become — in the sense that Joseph Campbell uses the word — “numinous.”

bookMy decision to read this “docudrama” (part memoir, part history and part detective story) was prompted by my genuine wish to gain a better understanding of the history of racial conflicts and violent conformations that took place in North Carolina between the 1950s and the present.

bookStephen Dobyns has written 20 novels and more than 10 volumes of poetry; however, he is difficult to “classify.” His writing is praised by big league names as varied as Francine Prose and Stephen King, but he is most famous for a “sexual harassment” charge brought against him while he was teaching at Syracuse University (allegedly, he was overheard making “salty and crude” comments at a party).

bookMark Powell’s The Dark Corner is probably the best Appalachian novel that I have read in the last decade. It is also the most disturbing. In this, his third novel, Powell captures both the natural beauty of northwestern South Carolina and the seething violence and paranoia that lurks beneath the surface. This is a region where the interests of environmental groups, real estate developers, the federal government and right-wing extremists collide. The result is volatile and unstable, as homemade nitroglycerine.

bookThey were known as the West Memphis Three: Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., three teenagers who were accused of murdering three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas in 1993. Their trial was marked by tampered evidence, false testimony and public hysteria. It is small wonder that it became an event so bizarre, it attracted the national media.

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