Saturday, September 5, 2015
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez Review
Reading WENCH required me to constantly push aside my modern sensibilities. Knowing what slave women had to endure and in many instances convince themselves of in order to simply survive and maintain some sense of sanity is hard to accept. Lizzie is the perfect example of the divided and sometimes misguided loyalties that many slave women had to face. Taken from the only home that she had known and placed on a new plantation at a very young age, Lizzie doesn't have any semblance of a childhood. Lack of affection, courtesy, and any positive attention Lizzie is ripe for being emotionally manipulated by her master. What put a little knife in my heart is the fact that a very young Lizzie is easily seduced by minimal kindness and glasses of water.
The four women followed in this story all have very different and unique personalities. They are all handling their stations in life differently but with one common thread. None of them have any say over their lives or the lives of the people they love; not even their children. Of the four women, only Lizzie has any affection for the man who holds her in bondage. Because of her conflicting loyalties it takes her a while to figure out her real place in the world and I found that just as frustrating as the other three women in the story. I had to remind myself that Lizzie is forced into womanhood and motherhood so quickly and at such a young age that she had to find a way to cope with what happens to her. Convincing herself that Drayle cares for her and her children makes things tolerable. However, Lizzie's willful blindness cause great harm to other people who should have been able to count on her.
Although I did enjoy WENCH there were a few circumstances left unfinished and I have some unanswered questions that I would have liked to have had filled in. The story ends abruptly and I just didn't feel as if the story was finished. If it had been an ebook instead of a physical book I would have sworn the last of the story hadn't downloaded. WENCH was published in 2010 and there is no follow up as of yet which is a shame. I would have loved to have gotten a story for Reenie and Mawu although I know that Mawu's story would be gut wrenching. However, I will definitely be reading Perkins-Valdez's second book BALM in the near future.
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.