Morgan Jerkins delights in finding the fantastical within the familiar. In her new novel, Caul Baby, everyday life takes on a surreal glow: a bodega covertly peddles mystical talismans; a brownstone visibly embodies its owners’ secrets. And on that border between our world and her imagination, fantasy reveals a sometimes harsh truth about reality.
No element of Caul Baby better illustrates Jerkins’ ability to spin magic out of the mundane than the titular caul, the amniotic membrane that surrounds a baby in the womb. In the novel, members of the miraculous Melancon family—three generations of Black women living in Harlem—carry this thin, translucent layer of skin with them throughout their lives. Their cauls provide them with physical invincibility—and, later, income, when they begin selling pieces for profit. The caul’s supposed ability to provide good luck and a defense from evil has a long history in folklore, but Jerkins says the complex, passionate women who produce it in the book are deeply rooted in reality. “I kept thinking about how Black women are supposed to be everything for everyone else,” she says. “Is it too far-fetched to think of Black women healing or protecting, providing to others, when we know they have a legacy of that?”
Caul Baby begins with a Harlem community thrown into flux by a motherhood melodrama. Laila, a local woman who’s suffered several miscarriages, goes to the Melancons to buy a piece of caul in an effort to protect her latest pregnancy. They refuse her request, preferring instead to sell their precious skin to white customers with deep pockets, a practice that builds ire against the family in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. When Laila publicly descends into madness after her child is stillborn, the Melancons acquire a baby of their own under hazy circumstances, adding to the ill will. And the child, Hallow, carries a caul.
As the inheritor of that gift, Hallow is hailed by her family as the great hope for their future, but she struggles with the way the caul limits her life—the overt disdain from their community; the loneliness of her existence; the responsibility to provide for her family, as did the women before her, when her body is the commodity. Hallow is physically protected from harm, but at a high price. “Just because someone heals doesn’t mean that they don’t feel pain,” Hallow’s mother Josephine says by way of explanation, not …read more
Source:: Time – Entertainment