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An ambitious and startling debut novel that follows the lives of four women at a resort popular among slaveholders who bring their enslaved mistressesTawawa 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.
wench \'wench\ n. from Middle English "wenchel," 1 a: a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.
290 pages, Hardcover
First published December 16, 2009
Inside the cottage, Lizzie felt human. She could lift her eyes and speak the English Drayle had taught her. She could run her hands along the edges of things in the parlour – two chairs, a sofa, a wooden table, a tall oil lamp with a milkglass base, a cast-iron stove – as if they were hers. And she could sit.If Lizzie's occasional access to such simple pleasures is exceptional for a slave, Perkins-Valdez leaves us in no doubt about the limited extent of her privileges when on the very next page we read her rehearsing a calm request, but then begging Drayle to free their children, the only ones he has fathered. Drayle sidesteps, avoiding the question. There's never the slightest suggestion of equality in their relationship; though Drayle sometimes makes an effort to keep Lizzie sweet, she is his servant at all times and in all ways. Reading community reviews of this book, I can see that many readers found the topic extremely painful and difficult to read. The ambiguities and implications of Lizzie and her children's status make this a deeply uncomfortable book.