Another side of slavery – “Wench” by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
Me neither. But isn’t it weirdly fascinating?
Dolen Perkins-Valdez apparently agrees with me, for she turned this historical footnote into a novel, “Wench.”
“Wench” is the story of four female slaves (Lizzie, Reenie, Sweet, and Mawu) who meet each summer for four years as their masters arrive at one of these resorts – Tawawa House. Our main character is Lizzie, who actually thinks she loves Drayle, her master. She’s born two children for him, lives in his house, and travels with him to Tawawa House each summer. In reality, Lizzie really wants Drayle to free her two children so they can have a better life than she ever had.
All four women have difficult stories to tell; Reenie’s master is also her half-brother (as their father raped her mother a generation before), Sweet’s four children all die tragically of cholera, and headstrong Mawu desparately wants to run away. In addition to the women, Lizzie’s friend Philip (another slave) suffers alongside them, hoping that the father of the white woman he’s fallen in love with will be able to purchase him and subsequently free him.
Though the situation isn’t ideal for anyone, it’s not just the slaves that suffer. Perkins-Valdez smartly includes Drayle’s wife, Fran, as one of the main characters. Watching her husband have an affair with a woman who lives in their house isn’t easy on Fran – who tries (to no avail) to sell Lizzie away to solve everything. Truly, slavery sucked for a lot of people.
While not a portrait of a beautiful time in American history, “Wench” is a darkly powerful book. It’s important to remember history, lest we be destined to repeat it. Dolen Perkins-Valdez gorgeously crafts this historical fiction novel so that it clearly showcases the brutal conditions that slaves lived under.