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Wash Hardcover – February 5, 2013
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Wrinkle’s debut novel tells the heartrending tale of life on a slave plantation in early nineteenth-century Tennessee, where the lives of two slaves, Wash and Pallas, intersect with that of Richardson, a land baron and Revolutionary War veteran. Richardson acquires Mena, already pregnant with Wash, at auction in 1796. From his earliest years, Mena tells her son stories of her West African homeland, determined that he grow up knowing who his people are. When debt threatens to overwhelm Richardson, who has been dabbling unsuccessfully in western land development, he decides to hire Wash out as a breeder, much like one of his horses, to neighboring slave owners. This proves to be a lucrative enterprise, but one that gradually breaks Wash’s spirit. Until he meets Pallas, a young woman with healing powers who reaches back to his West African roots to help him rise above his harsh surroundings. Wrinkle has written a remarkable first novel, one that will haunt readers with the questions it raises, and the disturbing glimpse it offers into an unfathomable world. --Deborah Donovan
Named a Best Book of 2013 by the Wall Street Journal
"A masterly literary work . . . Wrinkle’s novel does not allow us to draw easy correlations but invites us to consider the painful inheritance and implications of such a horrendous moment in American history. Rather than disapproving opprobrium and diatribes, this debut occasions celebration. Haunting, tender and superbly measured, Wash is both redemptive and affirming." Major Jackson, The New York Times Book Review
"[An] unflinching, stunningly imagined debut." Vanity Fair
"A marvel. By turns grim and lyrical, heart-wrenching and hopeful." People (four stars; a People Pick)
"A powerful novel." O, the Oprah Magazine (one of "Ten Titles to Pick Up Now")
"The voices of the past can't speak for themselves and must rely on the artists of the future to honor them. It's a profound responsibility and one that Margaret Wrinkle meets in her brilliant novel Wash. She shows not only the courage to submerge herself in the Stygian world of plantation slavery but also the grace and sensitivity to bring that world to life . . . Narrative roles are given to Wash, fellow slaves and his succession of masters, creating a dense, hypnotic ensemble of voices similar to the effect achieved in Peter Matthiessen's momentous retelling of the life of a Florida sugar plantation owner, Shadow Country . . . It's from patriarchs like Wash as well as like Richardson, Ms. Wrinkle shows, that the U.S. was born." Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Amazing . . . Never has a fictionalized window into the relationship between slave and master opened onto such believable territory . . . Wash unfolds like a dreamy, impressionistic landscape . . . [A] luminous book." Atlanta Journal Constitution
"A lyrical story of courageous human beings transcending the cruelty and degradation of their slave-holding society." The Dallas Morning News
"The history of the South provides plenty of tense, complicated material. Even subjects we think we know well can often reveal new stories in the hands of a talented author. Margaret Wrinkle's debut novel Wash is one of those stories." Jackson Free Press
"[A] profound debut novel that takes readers on a journey into a past that left an inevitable mark in America’s history . . . Wash is a powerfully haunting tale about the captor and captive. It offers a look at both through their own narrative form expressing their true feeling." Birmingham Times
"Wash achieves something extraordinary: a full-fledged confrontation with one of the most difficult aspects of our nation’s history. . . . Wrinkle has given us an honest and important expression of hope . . . a firm foothold that leads in the direction of truth and reconciliation. We would do well to take this step." The Post and Courier
"[Wrinkle] plumbs beyond the brutality and into the wisdom of the ages to compose an elegiac yet surprisingly uplifting portrait of the resilience of the human spirit. . . . Wash is a solemn and magnificent paean to the survivaleven amid the most crushing, inhumane conditionsof the special and eternal essence within every soul." Shelf Awareness
"In this deeply researched, deeply felt debut novel, documentarian Wrinkle aims a sure pen at a crucial moment following America’s War of Independence. . . . The novel well evokes the tragedy not only of [its] lovers’ untenable positions, but also that of their master and his fragile country." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Wrinkle bears witness to the inhumanity of slavery . . . A moving and heart-rending novel." Kirkus Reviews
"Heart-rending . . . Wrinkle has written a remarkable first novel, one that will haunt readers with the questions it raises, and the disturbing glimpse it offers into an unfathomable world." Booklist
"Wrinkle has spotlighted a crucial era in the American experience, writing with grace and intelligence." New York Journal of Books
"Wrinkle masterfully takes us on a powerful journey through the darkest past and present of this country, boldly addressing the chasm of racial divide with the scalpel of a gruesome truth. Wash is the epitome of courage and determination to heal the central wound of this culture." Malidoma Patrice Somé, author of The Healing Wisdom of Africa
"Wash is bold, unflinching, and when finished, certain to haunt the reader for a long, long time." Ron Rash, author of Serena and The Cove
"Boldly conceived and brilliantly written, Margaret Wrinkle's Wash reveals the horrible human predation of slavery and its nest of nightmares. With a truthfulness even beyond Faulkner, Wrinkle makes her novelistic debut in a monumental work of unflinching imagination." Sena Jeter Naslund, author of Ahab’s Wife, Four Spirits, Abundance, and Adam and Eve
"Margaret Wrinkle’s Wash is a marvelous window into the world of nineteenth century American slaverya powerful fusion of knowledge and imagination." Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls Rising, Master of the Crossroads, and The Stone that the Builder Refused
"A significant and hugely troubling book." Pinckney Benedict, author of Miracle Boy, Town Smokes, The Wrecking Yard, and Dogs of God
"This majestic, beautifully-written novel will both break your heart and make it wiser." Charles Gaines, author of Stay Hungry, Pumping Iron, A Family Place, and The Next Valley Over
"This exquisite novel is a gift of healing. It exposes the dark and fearsome sin that stains our history, and confronts the guilt that lurks in our collective American soul. But in the genius of the telling we are led to the tenderness at the bone, the humanity at the core, and buoyed by joy." Beverly Swerling, author of Bristol House
"A unique and powerful story, Wash tells a chapter of our past that we would rather look away from. Margaret Wrinkle makes sure that we cannot. Her whole life has led up to this book, and she writes it in a sure and captivating voice, augmented by her remarkable pictures." Kevin Baker, author of Strivers Row, Dreamland, and Paradise Alley
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Top customer reviews
"Wash," a debut novel by Margaret Wrinkle, clearly establishes her as one of America's finest new talents. "Wash" (short for "Washington") is the story of a slave and those around him in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. In an unusual format, the book is divided into seven parts, without chapters, but broken into the individual observations of half a dozen characters. These sections of the book are presented as life vignettes of each of the characters who tell the meaning of shared events from their differing points of view. In this way we come to know the major players: Wash; his mother, Mena; Richardson, the plantation owner; and Pallas, an African healer. Among other things, one also learns about the sensitive dynamic between slaves and owners in an isolated plantation.
A particularly fine aspect of author Wrinkle's work is the delineation and growth of each of these players as they spend their lives together closely woven in the web of owner-slave-plantation. Furthermore, presented in first person, the language itself lends us an intimate understanding of individuals in a world overt as well as interior monologue where there are no secrets, no taboo subjects.
As their stories unfold, we see, up close and personal, the ugly and sadistic treatment of slaves - beating, branding and breeding slaves - like farm animals. Because Dickenson learns there is greater profit in selling slaves than agriculture, he begins to use Wash, for his physique and intellect, as a stud for the comely maidens on his property and rented out to other slaveholders. As that project grows, both Wash and Dickenson are flattered as the generations of youngsters, products of Wash's couplings, become more and more recognizable among the young slave population. Just one of the riveting points in this story is the relationship of Wash to his master, each one dependent upon the other, but each one constantly at work to preserve their perceived power with the others.
In addition to the richness of characterization and a plot of slavery not often made intimate (one feels the branding iron on Wash's face; the stripes of whippings on his back), "Wash" also introduces us to the strength gathered and released through the power of herbs and ritual in paranormal spiritual connection.
Finally the power of "Wash" is embedded in author Wrinkle's command of language, the richness and clarity of description and lyrical poetry bring tears to your eyes as you feel so deeply what these people experience. The following is but a tiny sample of hundreds of beautiful lines in "Wash."
"A pale harvest moon rises huge and fast, dwarfing his whole place and casting its improbable brightness on the broad floorboards."
"And Wash likes the way the boy hangs on his words. The attention feels good. Almost makes him want to say more but then he hears Emmaline muttering, don't never trust a white child over the age of twelve and most don't even make it that far."
"It was the little ones who had not yet learned how to make themselves unavailable. They'd stare right at you, open as a flower. And I have to say, it felt good, even if it was unsettling, looking into a pair of negro eyes that weren't slammed shut like a good strong door."
"Happens to all of us. Pallas and Richardson too. You either tell your stories or else they tell you and it's hard to know the difference sometimes."
If you're fond of American Historical novels, consider Margaret Wrinkle's novel "Wash" a treat you owe yourself.
Although there are flaws in this novel such as clichés that the characters speaking in the nineteenth century would never have used—“To hell with that…” “I know who gets the last laugh” among several others—this is a novel that is truly a literary masterpiece.
For a few dozen pages I had difficulties with the first person narrators because I didn’t believe, for example, that Wash would have had the language ability to narrate as he does. However, the more I read, the more I became aware of just how skillfully Margaret Wrinkle in her debut novel provide for verisimilitude, mainly through Wash’s mother, Mena, who came to the United States on a slave ship, nearly dying from a fall over board.
Before telling a little about the story, I would like to suggest that the author has created some rich symbols beginning with the title—the name of the central character—who was actually named Washington by his owner. However, Mena saw her son only as Wash, the child she carried as she was daily awash in the sea, on an island with her master—he is not the father—Richardson who has gone there to rid himself, for the moment, of all the reminders of what he did in becoming a slave owner. Here is a piece of Wash’s adult narrative from the novel to demonstrate what I am saying: “Wash. Every time she said it, she heard waves and saw water sheeting off men. Sweeping me clean.”
It is a novel of redemption. And rich in beautiful language, very poetic at times. When I read in a one-star review that an entire book club rejected this novel, all I could think of was this: they probably read Fanny Flagg-type novels, her last one being the antithesis of “Wash.”
Richardson, a young idealist, fought in the American Revolution, was captured along with Thompson by the British and held as a prisoner. He was an idealist who wanted the United States not to embrace slavery. However, as is all too often the case, the young idealist becomes the pragmatist. And as such he does become a slave owner only to discover as he ages that he wants to divest himself of what he has built and decides that he will divest most of it to his offspring. In a strange turn of events, he had purchased Mena, fresh off the slave ship, at a slave auction, not knowing she was pregnant. She is an amazing mother, unaware of just how her son would be used.
And this is so interesting to me: well-endowed Wash would become literally a stud service. In other words, Richardson gets paid a little something every time Wash is able to impregnate a slave woman. Although shamanic Mena is no longer alive, Wash become friends with a potent healer named Pallas who often is a midwife.
And therein lies the keys to what becomes a power struggle with these three characters.
It is a novel that is very lyrical and highly troublesome in that the author exposes in raw details the horrors of slavery. At one point Richardson, who was a magistrate (judge), sentences a slave woman to hang after she stabs to death her master and mistress whose children come upon the scene and are then comforted by this slave woman who was far more the mother to them than the one dead on the floor. And the result of his judgment—it would have been the only one possible back then, of course—helps to build the plot line of this amazing novel.
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A literary analysis on the Dark-Light spectrum dichotomy of human moral character and the equalization factor of death as it applies to the novel Wash by...Read more