New York Times Book Review – March 31, 2013
“Margaret Wrinkle has written …a masterful literary work that will surely earn praise at every turn… Wash is narrated in luxuriant prose by three characters… in short affecting passages, these characters tell their stories …Wrinkles 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
People Magazine – Book Pick of the Week – 4 Stars – February 25, 2013
A descendant of slaveholders, the Alabama-bred Margaret Wrinkle boldly tackles her heritage in this debut novel, and it’s a marvel. By turns grim and lyrical, heart wrenching and hopeful, Wash takes place in early-1800’s Tennessee, where settlers and their slaves are inextricably bound in a web of oppression, powerful secrets and small moments of decency. Three people dominate Wrinkle’s story: Richardson, a tortured landowner, chafes at the system that supports him even as he farms out his prized slave, Washington, for breeding. Wash is a difficult, inscrutable man who survives humiliation and violence by retreating into the spirituality bequeathed him by his West African mother. And Pallas, a midwife and healer, tries to protect Wash, whom she loves, with ancient remedies. In their different ways, all three sense that change is coming. “This will tilt and fade and crumble in the long run. The only question is just how long is the long run, and can they hang on long enough to make it?” With their voices resonating in your head, you’ll wish they could have.
From a descendant of slave holders, a wrenching debut about the sins of the Old South.
— Reviewed by Helen Rogan
The Wall Street Journal – February 16, 2013
“…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… world of plantation slavery but also the grace and sensitivity to bring that world to life.
Ms. Wrinkle juxtaposes the merciless dispassion of slaveholding with bracing plunges into the emotions of her characters… …a dense, hypnotic ensemble of voices…”
Atlanta Journal Constitution – Friday, February 8, 2013
“…Wrinkle has done an amazing job. Never has a fictionalized window into the relationship between slave and master opened onto such believable territory — the minds and hearts of two men and a woman who grapple with a troubled, life-long alliance on a plantation in Tennessee during the first half of the 19th century…
One thinks of the best literature of the South and “Wash” itself when she says, “Yes, the writing does shrink it all down, but how in the world could everything fit otherwise? As long as you keep your mind’s eye good and strong, you can use the words to open a thing back out to how it really was. Just like tracks. A cluster of pads, tipped with the points of claws, can summon up the whole wolf…
Vanity Fair – February 1, 2013
“…unflinching, stunningly imagined debut novel”
Booklist – January 12, 2013
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 insuccessfully 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
Publishers Weekly Starred Review – November 26, 2012
In this deeply researched, deeply felt debut novel, documentarian Wrinkle (broken/ ground) aims a sure pen at a crucial moment following America’s War of Independence when the founding fathers yearned to free the country from the tyranny of slavery. At the center of this story stands Revolutionary War veteran Gen. James Richardson and his slave, Wash. Like Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen of Mississippi, Richardson had depended on slaves to “carve out of nothing” a plantation on the Tennessee frontier. Though Richardson had wanted to leave slavery behind, he’s driven by greed and still involved with it, he says, “because I can’t stay out of it.” Imagining that the waves of settlers heading further west will need even more slaves, Richardson studs out Wash to neighboring plantations and fills the region with his visage—not the “R” branded to his cheek by his keepers, but Wash’s “dark eyes that let you fall right inside,” his “thick brows… like wings” and what the midwife who becomes Wash’s lover, Pallas, upon later meeting some of Wash’s biological children, calls, “[t]hat dead on, straight ahead way he had.” Worried that another slave, jealous over whom Wash has been forced upon, might come at Pallas for revenge, Wash says he feels “nailed down in a way I want to pull up from. But it’d take too much skin so I don’t.” Undulating between a lyrical third-person narration and the meditative first-person accounts of Wash, Pallas, and a slowly cracking Richardson, the novel well evokes the tragedy not only of the lovers’ untenable positions, but also that of their master and his fragile country.
Kirkus Review – November 15, 2012
Wrinkle bears witness to the inhumanity of slavery in this chronicle of a Southern family in the early 19th century. Richardson, an American soldier captured during the Revolutionary War, comes out of that experience in debt and unwilling to resume his previous life, so after the war, he begins to acquire several slaves. Although he’d just been looking for males, one female, Mena, catches his eye, and he purchases her as well. She bears a son, Wash (or Washington), who grows up under Richardson’s watchful eye. It becomes a shocking but natural progression for Richardson to analogize breeding farm animals to breeding slaves, for to Richardson both are simply valuable commodities. Because the worth of a female slave is enhanced when she has children, Wash becomes a “stud” slave. Amid this unimaginable dehumanization, Wash tries to hold on to the West African legacy he’s inherited from his mother, and he takes up with Pallas, a healer who’s also holding on to her African heritage. Wrinkle moves us effortlessly through narratives recounted by Pallas, Wash and Richardson, so we get three perspectives on the events. She also recounts much of the narrative through a more distancing third-person point of view; a perspective that helps put all three major characters in the same frame. It’s a measure of the evil of the system of slavery that Richardson is accounted a “good” owner. As he reflects, “Even a fool knows that whipping is best avoided. Makes them harder to sell. But if it needs to be done, I’ll do it myself.” His stubbornness is matched by that of Wash himself; who manages to maintain and assert his dignity in an environment that systematically tries to deprive him of it.
A moving and heart-rending novel.