"But what she really wanted to know was why this girl was so carefree in a world full of nothing if not care."I was first drawn to Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez because of the unique and interesting topic- it is the story of several slave women during the 1850s who are taken to a resort each summer as their masters' sexual mistresses. The historical novel focuses on Lizzie, who lives in Tennessee where her master begins to visit her room when she is only thirteen years old, teaching her to read and bringing her small gifts only to finally claim what he most desires- Lizzie's body. She bears him his first two children, a girl and a boy, and she is moved into the house despite the fact that he is married. Isolated from the other slaves by her privileges, Lizzie longs for the summer retreats when her master's wife stays home and she gets him all to herself. Lizzie also looks forward to meeting up with other slaves in similar positions who can relate to her unique situation, including Sweet and Reenie.
The resort where the men and their slaves stay is actually in Ohio, where Lizzie has her first encounters with free blacks. Everything changes one summer when the three women are joined by Mawu, a rebellious and independent woman who has "fixed" herself so that she cannot give her master anymore children having already been heartbroken when he has sold them in the past. Although Wench begins with the summer that the four women first meet, Perkins-Valdez then flashes back in time to the 1840s and tells the story of what life was like for Lizzie, and the experiences she has had as a mistresses, especially when it comes to giving children to a man who's wife could not. The novel then returns to the subsequent summers, as the readers learn the fate of Sweet, Reenie, Lizzie and Mawu.
The storytelling in Wench is smooth and rich, and despite being a historical novel Perkins-Valdez gives the reader a clear impression of the time and setting. Despite being a fairly quick read, Wench manages an intense emotional story from a unique perspective. The one complaint I had with the novel was that I wished Perkins-Valdez had delved further into the lives of the other women the way she did with Lizzie. Although the other women do share small bits of their stories, such an incredible job is done telling Lizzie's story that I wished for slightly more when it came to the other women. I was also left undecided about the ending, particularly when it came to Mawu's actions, as I had not been entirely convinced of the relationship on which they were based. I also felt slightly discontent about the ending in general, as I did not think it had the strength and clarity of the rest of the novel and was perhaps a bit rushed.
Overall, the novel offers an unusual and powerful perspective on slavery from a viewpoint I had not previously encountered. In Wench, Perkins-Valdez created four unique and interesting women, and I was just hoping for the chance to learn more about three of them.
Release Date: January 1st, 2010
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own.