Book Review: Wench

August 23, 2011 Whitney Review 4 Comments

Book Review: WenchWench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Published by Amistad on January 5, 2010
Genres: Historical Fiction
Source: Library

An ambitious and startling debut novel that follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistresses

wench 'wench n. from Middle English "wenchel," 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.

Tawawa House in many respects is like any other American resort before the Civil War. Situated in Ohio, this idyllic retreat is particularly nice in the summer when the Southern humidity is too much to bear. The main building, with its luxurious finishes, is loftier than the white cottages that flank it, but then again, the smaller structures are better positioned to catch any breeze that may come off the pond. And they provide more privacy, which best suits the needs of the Southern white men who vacation there every summer with their black, enslaved mistresses. It's their open secret.

Lizzie, Reenie, and Sweet are regulars at Tawawa House. They have become friends over the years as they reunite and share developments in their own lives and on their respective plantations. They don't bother too much with questions of freedom, though the resort is situated in free territory–but when truth-telling Mawu comes to the resort and starts talking of running away, things change.

To run is to leave behind everything these women value most–friends and families still down South–and for some it also means escaping from the emotional and psychological bonds that bind them to their masters. When a fire on the resort sets off a string of tragedies, the women of Tawawa House soon learn that triumph and dehumanization are inseparable and that love exists even in the most inhuman, brutal of circumstances–all while they are bearing witness to the end of an era.

An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.

Lizzie, our lead protagonist visits the camp with her master Drayle and looks at this time as a mini-vacation to spend with her friends, Sweet, Reenie and Mawu. Wench was an interesting concept but went absolutely nowhere.  The bases of the plot was the girls doing some sort of chore, followed by anal sex and maybe popping out a baby or two.  There were several opportunities to “take it somewhere” such as a difficult childbirth, attempted escapes or a vague description of life in the slave quarters.  Unfortunately each opportunity ended with master and slave heading back to the cabin for anal sex.

So much potential but such a disappointment.  I think part of the problem was that a plethora of historical fiction novels has been written on the topic of slavery, (Gone with the Wind, Cane River, Uncle Tom’s Cabin) and Wench brought nothing new to stand out from the rest of the crowd and could easily be picked last for “Red Rover”.



4 responses to “Book Review: Wench

  1. Jo

    Yikes! Ok … I don't think I'll be picking up this one. "The bases of the plot was the girls doing some sort of chore, followed by anal sex and maybe popping out a baby or two."


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