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North Carolina African American Literature

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Find this story in Octavia Butler, Bloodchild and Other Stories (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1995; rpt. Seven Stories, 2005).

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PHOTOGRAPH BY COCO KEEVAN; COURTESTY OF UNC-TV PUBLIC MEDIA NORTH CAROLINA

Kat and Constancia converge at the Department of Health’s Contagious Diseases, where women of color pile in to find out their fates, all with strange symptoms in addition to the disfiguring rash. Doctors in the clinic act like institutionalized robots, and the women feel unheard, invisible to those in power – this is treated as the norm for black and Latino women in this scene and opens up the possibility for a strong critique of racial invisibility prevalent in medical and government institutions. But this rash forces the women to be visible – an intriguing reversal. After hours of waiting, most of the women leave to call loved ones while Kat, Constancia, and three other women – Sandra, Doris, and Pearlie – are left in the waiting room. These five women have no one to update, and they feel an inexplicable bond, as if the virus wills them together. Just as there are five women, Kat describes the eruptions on her face as discs “arranged in a pattern of five” (13). Pearlie invites the women back to her house wait for answers; it is an unusual offer, but they are all strangely drawn to each other because they “clicked somehow” (58). Berger weaves in this peculiar bond, creating delicious tension and drawing attention to the need of the virus for its hosts to create a symbiotic relationship with other hosts. This host/alien relationship that highlights the role of surrogate motherhood is reminiscent of Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild”2 – these women become psychologically entwined through the virus and, like

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Gan and T’Gatoi, form dependent physical links with one another. Kat and Constancia’s narratives are interspersed with vignettes from the KrystàlaVox Corporation (Reenu-You’s head company), news stories, and even the CIA that piece together a broader response to the outbreak. These vignettes question whether the virus in Reenu-You was an accidental contamination, setting up a larger tension in the novella and introducing the possibility of racial targeting. However, this speculation is not directly addressed in the main narrative, and the virus spreads to those who did not use the product, regardless of their

gender or race, which complicates a racial motivation for contamination of Reenu-You. Berger also starts critiquing politicized beauty, when over the radio, a black leader in Brooklyn says, “black women are ‘chemical prisoners of the hair relaxing industry’” (144); and again, when Constancia is critical of her own “kinky” hair, referring to it as “nappy,” she is compelled to straighten it: “It’s just not something you tell, it’s something you do” (25) – but this warrants a deeper look and more development than Berger provides in her novella. As the novella closes, Berger leaves much unsaid, the journey

ABOVE Michele Tracy Berger with UNC-TV’s

North Carolina Bookwatch host D.G. Martin, 3 Aug. 2017

Profile for East Carolina University

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2019  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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