cover image Caul Baby

Caul Baby

Morgan Jerkins. Harper, $27.99 (340p) ISBN 978-0-06-287308-8

Jerkins (Wandering in Strange Lands) makes her fiction debut with the rich if didactic story of the Melancon family and the shadow they cast over present-day Harlem. Dominated by hard-hearted matriarch Maman, the Melancons are female healers notorious for selling fragments of the rare, skinlike caul they were born with to wealthy white buyers looking for protective amulets to ward off disease and misfortune. Indifferent to the woes of ailing Black folks in their own neighborhood, the Melancons have long scorned supplicants like Laila Reserve, who suffered a miscarriage and lost her mind after she was ejected from the Melancon brownstone, a spectacle that has reverberated throughout the community for decades. Now, only the youngest Melancon, Hallow, can uncover the truth behind her origins and the relationship between her family and the Reserves. While Jerkins effectively blends folk legend with contemporary details such as references to the Black Lives Matter movement and gentrification in Harlem, the premise is restricted by occasionally prosaic writing (“strands of hair roamed throughout her scalp”) and the heavy-handed moral of the story, which implies that Black women who fail to support other Black women will pay a price. Still, it’s vividly conceived, and the strong plot will carry readers to the end. Agent: Monica Odom, Liza Dawson Assoc. (Apr.)