Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

In her debut, Perkins-Valdez’s novel follows the lives of four slave women — Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet and Mawu — who are their masters’ mistresses, all of whom meet when their owners vacation at the same summer resort in Ohio. There, they see free blacks for the first time and hear rumors of abolition, sparking their own desires to be free. For everyone but Lizzie, that is, who cannot imagine leaving her children or her master.

The book mostly takes place during the early 1850s at that summer resort in Ohio, but there is a somewhat jarring flashback to the 1840s that explains Lizzie’s life and the reasons for her feelings. While each of the four women view their situation differently, the focus is entirely on Lizzie and I do wish there had been more information on the other three women as well as the men mentioned. I was intrigued by the other characters and disappointed how little attention was given to them. Lizzie is an interesting character, but I had a hard time focusing solely on her.

What I did like was how Perkins-Valdez showed the complexity of the problem around slavery. Lizzie struggles with the decision to runaway because of her children and the fact that she is in love with her master and thinks he is in love with her. In addition, the novel broaches the complexities of the relationships between masters and slaves and between the wives of masters and slaves, as well as the role of biracial children in the world of slaves and masters.

Overall, I liked the book. I may not have loved it like some bloggers, but I thought it was an intriguing tale about something I don’t know much about set during a time and place I know little about.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Perkins-Valdez, Dolen. Wench. New York, NY: Amistad, 2010. Print. 294 pgs. ISBN: 9780061706547. Source: Library.
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