Fiction, literary fiction, race

Book Review: Luster by Raven Leilani

In 'Luster,' a Young Woman Moves in With Her Lover — and His Family - The  New York Times

“I am inclined to pray, but on principle, I don’t. God is not for women. He is for the fruit. He makes you want and he makes you wicked, and while you sleep, he plants a seed in your womb that will be born to die”

Edie is a 23 year old black woman and an artist that is aware of her dysfunctions and trying to navigate her way through life. She gets into a relationship with Eric, a white married man with a black adopted daughter, Akila. His wife, Rebecca is aware of their relationship as they are in an open marriage. Edie loses her job and while trying to figure out her finances and living arrangements, Rebecca invites her to live in their house while Eric is out of town on a work trip – without Eric’s knowledge. The book follows the strange dynamic of figuring out how she fits into the family, her relationship with Eric and her slow ease into a relationship with their daughter when she realizes that she might be the only black person in Akila’s life.

Cool premise huh? Yup. That’s why I promptly added to my TBR list. The accolades too. This book had so much high praise, I definitely didn’t want to be left out and this may be partly why this didn’t work for me. I have low tolerance for protagonists who seem to be lost but Edie is 23 so it makes sense. She is practically a baby. I think she had relatable struggles for her age especially being an actual “starving artist” so to speak. Struggles like being broke in NYC, having a raggedy apartment with a roommate and the politics at her 9-5 job and being one of only two black people.

“I think of how keenly I’ve been wrong. I think of all the gods I have made out of feeble men”

Edie’s biggest detriment seems to be the men she chooses to have sexual relations with and how she lets them treat her. We get a background of her family life that somewhat explains why but it didn’t stop me from cringing a little. At some point with Eric, she encourages him to hit her and that was a tad uncomfortable to read. And this leads to what I think is the major reason this book didn’t work for me – I just couldn’t connect.

Granted I am older than Edie and lived a very different life but I just couldn’t hunker down and feel anything for Edie, not even annoyance. For every new chapter and new revelation, I kept going “okay and..?” because I just was not moved. And while this may be a reality to some, I found a lot of it farfetched. I truly could never understand why Rebecca invited Edie to live with them especially without Eric’s knowledge. We also did not get much insight as to why they had an open marriage. At some point in the book, Edie sees Rebecca and Eric still having sex which makes it more complicated.

A part of why I could not connect is I found the author to be verbose. A line that could be so simple would be described in a complex way with so many words and I am not a fan of that kind of writing. What I thought would be the most interesting story line was the relationship between Edie and Akila, their adopted daughter but the book never really goes in depth with that. I should mention the book is told from Edie’s perspectives so we are privvy to her thoughts.

Its a short book at 227 pages but for me, it was a book in circles. It felt like we went around and around the block, where the views weren’t necessarily pretty and never quite landed at a destination. Basically, nothing made sense to me. I gave this two stars and I’d like to say I have learned my lesson and will not fall for the over-raving and over-hyping of a book but chances are high I will.

Taynement

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