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Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories


Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories

There is no doubt that Kathleen Collins is a master writer, and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO INTERRACIAL LOVE? is proof that this prolific artist passed away too soon. Each of her sentences hits in the gut, revealing just enough so that the reader is left to ponder for himself or herself the truths fermenting in the story. It is obvious that the world of Collins could extend to numerous tales. Fortunately, we have been exposed to the ones featured in this collection.

It’s the ’60s. Most of Collins’ characters are young and idealistic. In fact, they could be the same person, having similar themes, being well-educated African American women from good families, with insights that not even people in their last days hold. It is probably not a coincidence that their fathers are principals and teachers who live in New Jersey. These women mingle with the elite, but have the wisdom to converse with those from varying worlds. Yet there is something deep within them, a knowingness, that makes their pain palpable.

"Each of [Collins'] sentences hits in the gut, revealing just enough so that the reader is left to ponder for himself or herself the truths fermenting in the story."

Navigating these worlds is an art form that not just anyone can master, as Collins describes in one of her stories, “Stepping Back.” One powerful passage reads: He took me to chic little intellectual gatherings and watched for signs of slovenliness: overindulgence in laughter, incorrect pronunciation, insensitivity in a delicate and nuanced situation. Always in the end he was baffled and enchanted by the effortlessness of my style…. Collins depicts the truths of a young, educated African American female in the ’60s with unmatched honesty and bravery. Being her beautiful, intelligent self is not enough. She must be extra.

Throughout the twists and turns of Collins’ stories, we get the feeling that women and men walk on the tips of their toes, unable to be who they truly are because they are constantly fighting who society is forcing them to become.

The title story is probably the most telling. It’s 1963 on the Upper West Side. Poets, photographers, heroin addicts and activists enter and exit the apartment shared by two young women. Many are headed south. Being a privileged northerner is now immoral. What everyone has in common is idealism. They are going to be different. They are going to change the world, whether it leaves them with a mouth wired shut or not. Nothing will stop them. Unlike their parents, who are reserved teachers and politicians, these kids are ready to take a stand. The tides have changed. Jail is no longer what it used to be. People are no longer afraid of its barriers, but are willing to be imprisoned --- for freedom.

Two overzealous couples dominate the story, with Collins characterizing them inside parentheses. Cheryl, the protagonist, was the only African American girl in her exclusive college’s graduating class, and possibly the first to attend that specific school. Her Caucasian boyfriend is a committed activist, constantly finding himself in jail in the south, and with a dislocated jaw. He wants to marry Cheryl, against the wishes of his Bostonian parents. Charlotte, a bold girl, fresh from Sarah Lawrence, is a rental strike organizer with an Umbra poet for a boyfriend. She claims to fantasize about working while he writes, but in the end is unsure if she wants to work at all and leaves her poet. Her upper-crust wedding later appears in The New York Times.

Cheryl’s concerns are even more complex, as she wonders if her Caucasian boyfriend’s size is smaller than her last lover’s. Is it due to his race, or merely the 300 years of mythological white impotence that has seeped into her subconscious? But sexual fulfillment does not know color. When Cheryl’s parents visit the apartment for dinner, her father cries. He never should have sent his daughter to that elite college. He had simply wanted her to teach, a school with a “white” name backing her up.

The final lines of the story are also goodbyes. Cheryl’s seemingly dedicated boyfriend has broken down. He cannot marry her, or go back south. It is over. He cannot be a “negro.” All for being a freedom rider, seeing as he is essentially giving up his freedom by abandoning his beliefs. Throughout the story, thoughts are reverberated as if people don’t quite trust themselves. Inside the melting pot. Inside the melting pot. Whatever happened to interracial love?

Reviewed by Bianca Ambrosio on December 16, 2016

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories
by Kathleen Collins

  • Publication Date: December 6, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco
  • ISBN-10: 006248415X
  • ISBN-13: 9780062484154