Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Luster, by Raven Leilani (2020)
This book was beautifully written, with a splash of dark humor, but also so hard to read. It's not a happy story, but it is one that feels breathlessly credible in it's grit and aching. I saw it accurately described somewhere as "unpleasant and uncomfortable to read, but in a way where you are completely hooked, and can't put it down."
Edie is a 23-year old Black woman living in NYC and making a right old mess of everything in her life. She is lonely and lost, and expresses her self-loathing by dating men who treat her like shit (&/or by sabotaging every relationship that she has - and there are many). Trigger warning, though: This includes occasionally asking her sexual partners to physically abuse her.
Enter Eric Walker, a 46-year old white man from New Jersey that she meets online. Eric is married, but in an "open relationship" - his wife, Rebecca, has laid out the ground rules for his philandering. When Edie is fired from her job and loses her apartment, a chance encounter with Rebecca brings her into the Walker home - living under the same roof as Eric, Rebecca, and their adopted Black daughter Akila, who she is expected to educate in all things "Black."
Every conversation in that house is awkward and halting, and reveals how ultimately sad and lonely every single character is. But the prose is stunning and I found myself wanting to underline at least one passage on every page. I absolutely recommend this book, but maybe not if you're in any way teetering on an emotional ledge. Save it for a time when you know you can handle it.
UP NEXT: Empire of Wild, by Cherie Dimaline