Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
In a nutshell, this book is best described as Toni Morrison-Lite and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way at all. Personally, I adore Ms. Morrison’s pen and I eat up every layer she offers, but it does require a lot of brainpower to fully appreciate her work. Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, on the other hand, is a book that is Morrison-esque, but without all the fuss–more accessible. The story is set in the 19th century and centers on four slave women who are in Ohio at a summer resort called Tawawa House. That was a real place folks! (More on that later.) Perkins-Valdez explores tough questions about “loving” one’s master, the sometimes complicated bond between slave woman and slave child and most of all, what it means to have sisterhood.
A Noteworthy Passage:
The below passage describes the reunion of two long lost sisters. It’s sweet in every sense of the word. Perkins-Valdez does a beautiful job of making this moment intimate, delicate and feminine.
Lizzie held fast to the woman, not believing him. Polly kissed her on the eyelids. Her lips were wet. She smelled like peaches, and Lizzie sucked the scent through her mouth.
The Most Delicious Things:
I love historical fiction. I love to read an author’s creative take on those little moments that are lost to history. In Wench Perkins-Valdez takes readers inside of Tawawa House, which was an actual resort in Ohio in the 1800s that hosted the southern slave masters who sometimes took their black slave “mistresses” (Such a misleading term, right? I mean how much consent was there in being your master’s other woman?) for the summer. The author paints some extraordinarily vivid pictures of the brutality and tenderness found in such a world.
Perkins-Valdez truly excels at putting readers in the head of the main character Lizzie. If you are someone who has ever wondered how you would have handled life back in the slavery days (Am I the only person who wonders about that?), Lizzie is the slave you just KNOW you would never be. I’ll let you read Wench and find out why that is, but once you learn more about her and her experiences and motivations, you feel like you understand her a bit more.
But can I blow your mind right quick? On the grounds of the former Tawawa House now stands Wilberforce University. Boom. Isn’t that something? There’s not much documentation about Tawawa House, even on the Wilberforce campus. You’ll find little more than a plaque with a couple vague lines about the property’s former use. Can you imagine the tales that will never be told from that place? Well, Dolen-Perkins helps us out with that.
Bits That Could Be A Tad Tastier:
I do not like the ending of Wench even though the ending makes perfect logical sense. Of course I won’t ruin it for you, but there is just something about the ending that leaves me unsatisfied. It’s kind of like eating at a restaurant and having a scrumptious appetizer brimming with spice and unexpected but heavenly textures, a delectable entree drizzled with long-simmered sauces and then they give you half a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a couple sprinkles in a plain ol’ bowl. You were just kinda expecting a little more, right? Right. Even with that though, I still like the book and I’d recommend it–hence it’s inclusion in the Delicious Ink series.
Go get a (copy of) Wench!