Wednesday, November 03, 2010


Last summer I ran into a friend at the library and she absolutely raved about a book she had just finished. I put it on my list and downloaded it from a few weeks and finished it tonight.

Let the raving begin!

The book is Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and it is truly an amazing book that surprised me, moved me, and kept me sitting in my car listening long after I had arrived at my destination. It was published in January of this year, and the paperback is due out in January of 2011.

Wench is the story of Lizzie, a slave from Tennessee, who visits a summer resort in Ohio with her master, Drayle, in the 1840's and 1850's. Lizzie is Drayle's mistress and the mother of his only children. At the resort, she develops bonds with other slave women who are at the resort with their masters, and Perkins-Valdez tells a powerful story of Lizzie's development from naive young girl who yearns for love to a mature woman who balances her need for freedom with her responsibilities to her children and her instinct for survival.

Just as I was caught up in the voices and stories of the women in The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, which I read earlier this year, I was caught up and swept away by the voices and stories of not only Lizzie but Mawu, Reenie, and Sweet as well as Philip, Lizzie's friend and protector, and even Drayle and his wife, Fran.

This is definitely the other side of the story to that told by Margaret Mitchell in Gone With the Wind, showing slavery for the violent, deplorable institution that it was and the people who were enslaved as complex and conflicted individuals. Perkins-Valdez did a wonderful job of showing the slaves and their masters as so much more than cardboard cutout, stock characters. Lizzie is warm and maternal, Mawu is wild and impulsive, Reenie is stoic, Sweet is Sweet, and their masters are as varied as they are, yet all are as bound to their roles as masters as their slaves are bound to them.

I loved entering this world and feeling and smelling and hearing the rich stew of details that Perkins-Valdez created. It was never an easy world to witness but I feel that I understand the slave experience that is so much a part of the American experience better for having read this book.

I said in my intro paragraph that Wench surprised me, and by that I mean that the emotions it stirred in me surprised me. For example, just as I was mentally urging on Lizzie to make a run for it--at one point she has a map of the underground railroad in her hands and is memorizing it--the reality of the risks involved in escaping rained down and I found myself mentally urging Lizzie to outlast Drayle, as I knew what she couldn't...that the Civil War was just around the corner.

Wench provides a powerful, interesting, life-affirming story that is an important part of the American fabric. It's a great read!


  1. Jane, I thought this was a great read as well. Loved your review!

  2. I should try to find this. I hope the library gets it! Sounds great.
    Hope you had a Happy Birthday!!

  3. Janet,
    Thanks for your review. Sounds like a compelling story and a great book club book!

  4. I've been wanting to read this for a long time and I'm glad to see that I won't be disappointed!