- Balm: A Novel by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
- June 25th, 13:33
I first came across Perkins-Valdez because of her first book, Wench a novel set in America in the 1850s a few years before the start of the civil war. Wench was a great novel, with a sublime hook, interesting characters and a central dilemma that was intruiging and managed to carry the entire book forward. My one quibble was that the writing was somewhat flat.
This is the good news for Balm: the writing is incredibly lush and beautiful and it really seems like Perkins-Valdez learned from her first work and grew as an artist. The bad news is that for fans of plot there is not a whole lot to hold on to. Balm is set in a burgeoning reconstruction era Chicago. The civil war is over and broken families litter the streets. Three people, Sadie, a white war widow, Hemp AKA Horse, a former Hemp plantation slave and Madge, a second generation black freeborn healer, find themselves thrown together after Sadie is invaded by the spirit of a dead civil war soldier and becomes a spiritualist, communicating with the dead and trying to help the living cope with their grief. The supposed through line that binds these characters is Hemp's search for his wife whom he is not sure is dead or alive and his growing love for Madge, who works for Sadie. The reality is that the plot lines are messy. Individually they are great, compelling stories that probably would have worked well on their own but together they are a muddle.