DESSA ROSE by Sherley Anne Williams


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Poet Williams (The Peacock Poems, Some One Sweet Angel Chile) writes in her prefatory note of being ""outraged by a certain critically acclaimed novel of the early seventies that travestied the as-told-to memoir of slave revolt leader Nat Turner."" Determined to write a corrective, a novel about Southern slavery (and slave revolt and slave escape) that eschews the lurid mythicism of William Styron, she's succeeded fairly well in this story of a black woman, Odessa, a runaway slave who once helped kill a murderous former master; and Ruffel, the wife of the failed Alabama planter (turned roving gambler) who now owns Dessa and her fellow runaways. Because only Ruffel is at home, she's allowed more intimate relationships with the slaves than is usual. Carolina-born and not necessarily more sensitive than any other white woman of her station, she nonetheless comes to need (sexually even--sex with gentle but strong slave Nathan) and then also care about the slaves, Dessa above all. The book climaxes with a Ruffel-supported and successful plan to bring the slaver North to freedom (a plan which also provides Ruffel with much-needed funds). Williams starts slowly and ends with a feminist loop--Dessa and Ruffel together; sisterhood is powerful--that's less than startling. But the particulars of slave life doubly refracted through Dessa's and Ruffel's eyes are well done and exacting much of the time.

Pub Date: July 23rd, 1986
ISBN: 0062011251
Publisher: Morrow