Monday, September 06, 2010
Wench. Dolen Perins-Valdez. 2010. HarperCollins. 293 pages.
Six slaves sat in a triangle, three women, three men, the men half nestled in the sticky heat of thighs, straining their heads away from the pain of the tightly woven ropes. The six chatted softly among themselves, about the Ohio weather, about how they didn't mind it because they all felt they were better suited to this climate. They were guarded in their speech, as if the long stretch between them and the resort property were just a Juba dance away.
Wench is a historical novel set (primarily) in the 1850s, at a summer resort in Ohio. A resort where slaveowners were able to 'vacation' openly with their slave wenches. (Slaves were still expected to work, to make themselves useful to anyone and everyone.) Wench portrays the struggles of four slave women--their complicated relationships with their masters, mistresses, and even each other. Lizzie, our heroine, has a complex relationship with her master, Drayle, for unlike the other slave women she feels she actually loves him. The relationship is complex--readers see much of this through flashbacks. They learn how the relationship began--and how it has continued through the years resulting in the birth of a son and daughter. Drayle's only children. Lizzie prays for freedom for her two children. Her one desire is to have her children be freed by their father. But so far, her requests have been refused.
Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu are the other three slave women readers meet in Wench. Each has a heartbreaking story. We see these characters through their relationship with Lizzie. We learn their stories through Lizzie. Because of these friendships, Lizzie's life will be changed.
Wench is a compelling novel. Once I started reading, it was difficult to put down. It was easy for me to care about these characters. It was intense and emotional in many ways--because their lives were bittersweet at best. I would definitely recommend this one!
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews