Early on in The Different Black Woman, a nimble-witted new horror satire by debut novelist Zakiya Dalila Harris, Nella Rogers feels able to bond along with her new workplace mate.
Nella’s been the one Black woman in her workplace for 2 years now. She’s an editorial assistant on the prestigious writer Wagner Books, struggling to climb the ladder and change into an editor herself. And Wagner, like most publishers, is staffed virtually fully by white individuals.
Nella longs for somebody she will be able to make ironic eye contact with after experiencing yet one more microaggression from certainly one of her coworkers. When glamorous Hazel wafts into the workplace — all locs and colourful blazers, trying “very Erykah-meets-Issa” — Nella thinks her desires have lastly come true.
So when Hazel says, “C’mon, sis, you will be actual with me,” and asks Nella to inform her about what it’s actually wish to work at Wagner, Nella obliges.
“I’ll simply put it this fashion,” she says. “They don’t ‘see’ coloration right here at Wagner.”
Hazel takes Nella’s phrases because the warning they’re. However to Nella’s shock, she doesn’t reply by providing up fellow-Black-girl solidarity. As an alternative, like a starlet from All About Eve with an amazing pure haircare hookup, Hazel makes use of Nella’s inside intel to set about undermining her at each flip.
Nella tells her bosses that there are some issues with a token Black character named Shartricia in an upcoming novel; Hazel assures them that the guide is good and genuine. (Is that what occurred with American Dirt?) Nella has cultivated a solidarity-based friendship with the Black individuals working the Wagner reception desk and mailroom, however Hazel plies them with presents and steals their loyalty. Nella’s been wooing a sizzling younger literary agent she needs to begin working with, and as a substitute the agent emails her to ask for Hazel’s contact info.
Hazel by some means appears to be extra authentically Black than Nella is, and likewise extra palatable to Nella’s white bosses. She is able to tailoring her id to her viewers with out disgrace or constraint, and whereas she laughingly tells Nella that every one she’s doing is code-switching, Nella is for certain one thing extra sinister is occurring.
The potential of what that sinister factor could be lurks under the floor of The Different Black Woman for some time, as Harris spends a lot of the novel satirizing the mores of white liberal places of work. Harris was once an editorial assistant at Knopf, and her depiction of Wagner cuts with the specificity of lengthy statement. “It simply … it sucks how white it’s right here,” says certainly one of Nella’s fellow assistants, and shortly afterward she enthusiastically greets Nella by Hazel’s title.
However slowly, via a collection of apparently unrelated chapters set within the ’80s, the query of what precisely Hazel’s deal is begins to take middle stage. It’s right here that The Different Black Woman begins to accumulate a barely crazy camp vitality, a bit alongside the traces of Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You or Marti Noxon’s Dietland. There’s a conspiracy that stretches again a long time, and an underground resistance, and mysterious nameless threats; there’s additionally a showdown at a pure hair care salon, and a major plot level revolves across the concern of what sort of hair grease Nella will use. It’s all creepy and unhappy and unsettling, but it surely’s heightened simply sufficient that it’s all a bit bit humorous, too.
Principally, The Different Black Woman is simply enormously enjoyable. This guide is confronting real points in regards to the issues Black ladies face as they navigate all-white areas, and about how even liberal institutions like book publishing have made themselves all-white — but it surely does so with a joyous verve that may have readers galloping via each web page. It’s a real blast of a learn, and it’ll change the best way you concentrate on cocoa butter without end.