[…] How could I take care of my symbionts when I didn’t know how to protect them from me?
I stopped beside the car and looked through the back window at Brook and Wright, now lying next to each other, both still asleep. Both had been touching me. Now that I had moved, they were almost touching one another.
My feelings shifted at once from fear for them to confusion. I wanted to crawl between them again and feel them both lying comfortably, reassuringly against me. They were both mine. And yet there was something deeply right about seeing them together as they were. (126)
This passage occurs as Shori, Wright, Brook, and Celia camp out in the woods, having narrowly escaped the burning of Iosef’s former vacation home. At this point, they don’t yet know what they’re going to do–they haven’t yet found out about or hatched a plan to seek refuge at the village at Punta Nublada.
As it’s nighttime, everybody is taking some time to rest. Brook, Shori, and Wright have been sleeping in the back of Brook’s car while Celia keeps watch over their campground. Shori, having slept for a while and taken Brook’s blood, gets up to relieve Celia of her post. In this passage, a number of conflicts come into play, both internal and external: Wright’s struggle to accept the non-exclusivity of her relationship with Wright; Shori’s struggle to accept the same, as well as her uneasiness with the new members of her ‘family’; Brook and Celia’s aversion to Shori as their new Ina. Over the course of the few pages surrounding this passage, however, these concerns begin to slowly drop away. This passage marks a distinct turning point in Shori’s feelings.
First, Shori expresses initial distress at Wright and Brook’s closeness. She seems to view each of them as her own, so to see them equally comfortable sleeping together as with her in between is a bit of a shock. There is an additional layer to Shori’s expression that she wants to “crawl between them again and feel them both lying comfortably, reassuringly against [her],” however: this is the first time Shori has expressed really any sort of affection of Brook, or any longing for that affection to be reciprocated.
We can also see Shori getting more comfortable with the concept of a plural relationship as well, her initial compulsion to crawl back between Wright and Brook giving way to the conclusion that “there was something deeply right about seeing them together as they were.” We also see Wright more comfortable with the idea, and Brook more comfortable with Wright as well. Over the coming pages, this marked change in the relationship is further revealed.
And yet, Butler works very hard to make this remarkable transition as un-remarkable as possible. When Shori finds herself comfortable with the arrangement in this passage, it gets a brief paragraph of attention before she goes on with her evening. There is no major discussion that leads to Shori, Brook, and Wright’s all falling into the same bed–no major hashing-out of previous disagreements, hang-ups, and misgivings. The situation unfolds entirely naturally–three very tired people, passing out at the end of a long day, finding mutual comfort in one another. And Wright’s growing and decided comfort with Shori’s non-monogamy, expressed a few pages later on 133, is a decided non-event:
“I healed,” I said and wondered what all this talk of my mating was doing to him. I looked at him but couldn’t read anything more than mild concern in my expression as he examined my face–probably for burns.
The attitude change which is first made apparent in the passage I initially selected and which continues through that above stands in stark contrast to the intense discussion, hand wringing, and concern about romantic pluralism expressed by both Shori and Wright earlier in the novel. This is almost certainly a deliberate choice by Butler. This technique draws the reader’s attention to widely-held attitudes regarding monogamy and the lack thereof, and seeks to point out that the latter is no more natural than the former, and in many situations can be significantly more comfortable. What was once a distinct point of tension dissolves into a non-issue, not as the conclusion of debate, argument, or discussion, but because, in light of new circumstances, the old hang-ups no longer make sense. Butler asks the reader to question their own–is the seeming importance of monogamy in many of our own lives built on concerns real or imagined?