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Insightful,
Dramatic,
Informative

31 reviews

Wench: A Novel
by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Published: 2010-01-05
Hardcover : 293 pages
71 members reading this now
25 clubs reading this now
24 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 31 of 31 members

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral ...

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Introduction

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is startling and original fiction that raises provocative questions of power and freedom, love and dependence. An enchanting and unforgettable novel based on little-known fact, Wench combines the narrative allure of < ?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Cane River by Lalita Tademy and the moral complexities of Edward P. Jones’s The Known World as it tells the story of four black enslaved women in the years preceding the Civil War. A stunning debut novel, Wench marks author Perkins-Valdez—previously a finalist for the 2009 Robert Olen Butler Short Fiction Prize—as a writer destined for greatness.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

From Part 1, Chapter 6:

The four women stacked the preserved fruit against the wall of the ice house. The ice house was thirteen feet long and twelve feet wide, a nearly perfect square. A ten-foot-deep hole was dug into the ground and filled with ice from the pond during the winter. After the ice was buried, the hole was covered with straw. The house remained cool throughout the summer. The resort used it for storing various foods such as fruit and eggs. Barrels of whiskey sat in the corner.

Sweet leaned against the wall. “Y’all mind if I rest a bit? My back ain’t holding up too well.”

“Naw, you go on and rest yourself,” Reenie said.

“This ground sho is cold,” Sweet said.

Mawu stopped and touched the ground. “This ice house wouldn’t last a Louisiana summer. Ain’t cold enough.”

“Louisiana ain’t no hotter than Tennessee,” Lizzie said.

“Hmph. You ain’t seen one of our summers.” Mawu’s voice was quiet. “You write it yet?”

Lizzie could make out the shapes of the women. Sweet formed an r. Her baby face—the origin of her name—led into a thick neck, wide bust, and sloping belly. Reenie’s older, thinner form was ramrod straight, her boniness cutting a sharp edge in the dim light of the ice house. Mawu’s hair was tied back into an uncharacteristic bun and covered with a yellow cotton handkerchief. Lizzie traced the woman’s body with her eyes: the small high breasts that had caught Drayle’s attention.

“You write it yet girl?” Mawu repeated.

Reenie and Lizzie stood side-by-side, stacking the jars in six neat rows: peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries.

“I ain’t sure I want to,” Lizzie said. She could feel the cool air creep through the folds of her dress. She cleared her throat.

“Do it,” Sweet said.

Both Lizzie and Reenie stopped working and looked down at the pregnant woman.

“I had a man once,” Sweet said. “He escape and leave me behind. I keep thinking he gone come back and get me. I wait and I wait. But he don’t never come.”

Lizzie wondered why Sweet had never told them this.

“I ain’t going nowhere,” Sweet went on. “Got too many childrens back home. I reckon I ain’t gone never leave Master. But the ones that wants to go oughts to be able to go.”

“Who exactly are the ones that want to go?” Lizzie pursed her lips until the words came out in a whistle. “I ain’t leaving my children neither. Nobody but Mawu wants to go.” Lizzie looked at Reenie when she said it. Surely the woman was too old to start over.

“I is still collecting my thoughts,” Reenie said.

“Collecting your thoughts?” Lizzie repeated.

Mawu walked over and grabbed Lizzie’s arm. She bit down into the flesh with her nails. Lizzie tried to pull away, but Mawu’s grip was firm.

“You write that letter, you hear?”

The salted carcass of a pig swung in the side vision of Lizzie’s eye, its broad back as purple as a bruise. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the Author:

1. Why does Lizzie betray Mawu in Part I?
2. Does Drayle really love Lizzie? Does she really love him? Is it possible that real love could exist within such an imbalanced power dynamic?
3. By the end of the novel, Fran begins to see Lizzie in a new way. Discuss this change in Drayle's wife.

Suggested by Members

Was the Mawu-Lisa connection believable? How could the author have developed that more fully?
by HarrietD1 (see profile) 03/27/12

http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/Wench-by-Dolen-Perkins-Valdez-Reading-Group-Guide
by Bak8382 (see profile) 06/28/10

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Wench is a great book club pick because it illuminates the unique difficulties of being a woman during slavery. The antebellum South was a culture led by men, therefore many women, both white and black, found themselves in difficult situations. Lizzie's attachment to her master, Drayle, is a complicated one. One might even refer to it as a kind of "Stockholm syndrome." Yet in this book there are no easy answers, for one might also argue that she and Drayle genuinely love each other. Because Wench offers no easy answers, it invites a wide range of reactions that will liven any book discussion.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
  "Historic Fiction"by Katha (see profile) 03/28/12

An insightfully written historical fiction about the pains indured during a very dark period of the United States - slavery.

 
  "Good but there are better choices"by HarrietD1 (see profile) 03/27/12

Hard to pick 3 words that sum up my experience of this book. Informative - because it provides a piece of history (that black slaves went as concubines with white masters to free state resorts) I did... (read more)

 
  "Thought it would be better...but OK read"by myburg (see profile) 03/26/12

Overall feelings from book club on this book was it was "OK". Not the best, but gave some insight into how slaves were treated as the mistresses of white slaveholders. A part of history pre-Civil War... (read more)

 
  "Great read!"by Meresparky (see profile) 03/17/12

 
  "Loved it!!"by FriendshipSisters (see profile) 06/02/11

I just finished this book today and had to share it with you right away. This novel is soooo good! The writing is so rich with characters and description that you feel as though you are pr... (read more)

 
  "h enh"by thomas3 (see profile) 04/21/11

excellent !

 
  "A realistic look at a sensational subject"by rosycheeks (see profile) 03/20/11

 
  "Wench"by cldando (see profile) 12/23/10

 
  "Wrench"by schmidt1radford (see profile) 12/22/10

hardhitting information about slavery life.

 
  "The Wench"by dwenzel (see profile) 12/21/10

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