Review: Wench


By Dolen Perkins-Valdez
(Amistad, Paperback, 9780061706561, February 2011, 320pp.)

The Short of It:

With sharp, clean prose, Perkins-Valdez delivers a story that’s sometimes tragic, at times hopeful and thoroughly compelling.

The Rest of It:

wench \’wench\ n. from Middle English “wenchel,” 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.

It’s a little known fact, but back in the mid-1800’s, there was a resort in Ohio called Tawawa House. It was a summer resort, frequented by slave owners and their slave mistresses. When Perkins-Valdez learned of this, she was amazed that such a place existed. Intrigued by the idea, she crafted a tale about four women, all friends, and how their roles as mistresses were not always clear-cut.

This is Lizzie’s story. Drayle purchased her as a young girl. Gave her books, treated her as if she mattered and as she grew into a young woman, her love of Drayle grew as well.  It doesn’t matter that he is married to Fran. Lizzie knows that he holds a special place in his heart for her and when she gives him the children that Fran can’t, she feels that her position in the house is secure.

To confirm this, Drayle takes her to Tawana House each summer. There, they sleep in the same room. She cooks for him, cleans for him, yet in her head, she is the one he loves. At first, she is happy playing this role, but as she becomes close friends with the other women, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu, she begins to question her importance and as her own children get older, she is often reminded that they are in fact, slaves.

This is a wonderful, complex story about a slave and her white master but it’s also a story about friendship. It’s difficult to understand how a slave could ever love her master, but to Lizzie, Drayle is everything to her. And although she knows she is tied to him because of the children, she really can’t imagine life any other way.

Lizzie’s story is tragic, because as a reader you can clearly see the master/slave lines but Lizzie can’t. Not at first. But somehow, I wasn’t frustrated with Lizzie. I wanted her to make different choices, sure, but I didn’t fault her for the ones she made. What’s strange is that I felt sorry for Fran as well.  She knows full well what is going on in her house, but she doesn’t have the power to do much about it. Oh yes, she tries, but she too, learns a thing or two in the end.

I’ve read a few books dealing with slave/master relations, but none of them were quite like this one. This story was unique and it left me thinking about things long after I finished it. I highly recommend it.

Source: Borrowed

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23 thoughts on “Review: Wench”

  1. I have had this one on my list for awhile. You have made me want to read it even more. Have you read The Kitchen House by Katherine Grissom?
    It was awesome.

  2. I also read and loved this book, and remember being blown away by all the strong emotions of the women and by the wrongness of the situations that they were in. It was an extremely powerful book for me, and it’s one that I probably won’t soon forget. This was a great review, Ti. It really captured the flavor of the book.

    1. I don’t think you’d feel frustrated. The author gives you just enough detail to give you an idea of what Lizzie lives with, but not enough to make it tough to read. Listen to it on audio… I listened to a clip of it (which has become a habit lately) and it was also very good.

  3. Lots of good stuff floating around about this one. I’m not sure if I would seek it out, but if it threw itself at me I would probably read it. Such complicated relationships…

    1. The resort was located in Ohio, a free state so it created lots of controversy and provided too much temptation to visiting slaves who wanted to escape from their masters. It stayed open for just a few years and is nowthe home to a University.

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book like this before and knowing that it’s based on a real place makes it even more intriguing to me! I need to pull this one off of my shelves!

    1. It’s differentfrom what you normally read, but it was a good read. I felt for the characters. I could easily see it being made into a movie.

    1. I know from what I’ve read that having a slave as a mistress was pretty common, but to live as a couple when away on vacation. I can totally see how that woud wreak havoc with a young girl’s heart. Not to mention what it does to the wife and her opinion of the girl.

  5. I’ve been curious to read this book for a while, but I think some of my hesitation is because everyone who has read this book has loved it. And that makes me wonder whether I will feel the same. I’m glad though that you enjoyed this!

  6. I have this sitting on my bookshelf. Your review has me wishing I could read it right now. When I first read about this book was when I first heard of this resort. I knew about slave owners having slaves as mistresses but never knew they took them away to a resort. I wonder how this resort existed in a free state. I have so many questions. I really need to read it soon.

  7. I’ve been hearing a lot about this one, a lot of people compare it to The Help, so it caught my attention. The premise is really interesting and I think I can already smell a Hollywood contract in the air 🙂

  8. The good reviews for this one just keep coming. I was able to get a Kindle copy from the library (!), and I can’t wait to dig in. Thanks for keeping this one on my mind.

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