Friday, March 19, 2010

Review: Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Such a beautiful cover, and original premise, I had high hopes for Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez.  The bottom line?  It wasn't for me.

Synopsis from Harper Collins

An ambitious and startling debut novel that follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistresses.

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.

An engaging, page-turning, and wholly original novel, Wench explores, with an unflinching eye, the moral complexities of slavery.

I gave this novel four solid days and 75 pages.  While the writing was honest and original, the harsh realities of slavery are tough to swallow.  I was touched by the plight of the four women slaves, and became enraged at their situation, but I found myself often too horrified to pick the book back up, which is why I had to abandon it.

I always say that if a book makes you FEEL, it has succeeded in connecting to its readers.  In this sense, yes, Perkins-Valdez reached her mark.  This book made me feel, unfortunately, it was guilt and horror of a time of which I was not in the right frame to read.  Not for me, not right now. 

I am grateful, though, to Harper Collins for giving me the opportunity to read this book.  Wench may not have been for me, but for my readers who are interested in reading a full review, feel free to visit some of my book blogging friends' reviews. (Found through Book Blogs Search Engine)

Bookin' With Bingo
S. Krishna's Books
All About{n}
The Book Studio (review and giveaway)

Wench at Harper Collins
Wench:  Reading Guide

About the Author:
Dolen Perkins-Valdez's fiction and essays have appeared in Robert Olen Butler Prize Stories 2009 , The Kenyon Review , PMS: PoemMemoirStory , North Carolina Literary Review , and the Richard Wright Newsletter . She is a former University of California postdoctoral fellow and graduate of Harvard. Dolen lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.

About the Book:
Wench: A Novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Amistad (January 5, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 006170654X
ISBN-13: 978-0061706547

FTC Statement: A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.


Elisabeth said...

Noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!! I just "short-listed" this one on my TBR pile - in fact, I created a new TBR pile - my SLTBRP - just for this one. Oh, dear. I must rethink...

Nely said...

Oh, Alison, I'm so sorry this story did not work out for you. It was tough and just downright horrifying to think of this sort of life. But I found the book hopeful even though it deals with such a grim subject. I hope you can pick it up again some day. It really is worth reading.


S. Krishna said...

Thanks for the link! :-) I actually 100% know what you mean about this one - while I did really enjoy it, it's hard for me to read books that make me feel sad or just horrible. I read for pleasure and fun, and I don't necessarily want to feel guilty after I read a book!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I read this one too, and it does give some tough things to think about.

Sheila (Bookjourney) said...

Thanks for the honest review. This one is on my TBR mountain. I appreciate the heads up on the topics and I am curious as to what I will think of it.

Have a super Sunday! :)

bermudaonion said...

Sorry the timing wasn't right for you. I'm still anxious to read this one, though.

Ceska said...

Well written novel set during the period of slavery. The author does a good job of describing the setting and the experiences that these women went through being forced to submit to the whims of their owners' sexual desires. It is difficult to truly understand the plight of slaves and what they went through. This book gives a little insight into an aspect that is not often discussed in our history lessons. Good read.

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