Luster by Raven Leilani
Always slightly cynical when I see a paperback smothered in hyperbolic pull quotes from publications as different as The Guardian and, spit, The Daily Mail, but Luster is as great as every reviewer says it is. The book’s protagonist aspiring painter Edie, a young black woman, starts an affair with a, seemingly, too good to be true older white guy, Eric, aware that there’s all sorts of racial, gender and economic power imbalances to be negotiated. The great touch is that Edie is a bit of a f*ck up (aka a person in their twenties), likeable, but drawn into being too honest to the kind of middle-aged bro questions that require a finessed lie - added to which she’s not that sure she can prevent herself talking about her countless office flings, IBS, rodent infested flat, or her failure as a painter. Can a New York have-not really snag a New York have? When she eventually ends up living in Eric’s nice white suburban house with Rebecca, his wife, and adopted black daughter, Akila, you wonder how long this precarious and dysfunctional Nuclear Family will take to explode. And, sure, a slight suspension of disbelief is required to get over this and a few other unlikely plot developments, but when a novel is this well written, who cares? “Like most white people who eat beans in the woods undeterred by the fresh faecal evidence of hungry bears, Eric finds his mortality and soft meaty body a petty, incidental thing. I, on the other hand, am acutely aware of how I might die…I think of all my unfinished business - the quart of pistachio gelato in my freezer, the 1.5 wanks left in my half-dead vibrator, my Mr Rogers box set”. Scalpel sharp, bitterly funny with bags of great lines, Raven Leilani’s Luster is just the thing to swing you into the new year.