Greetings, readers! My name is Sareeta Domingo, and I’m an author and fiction editor. It’s my great pleasure to be bringing you a Book of the Week, each week here on Morning Mari.
This week, my Book of the Week selection is Luster, the debut novel of author Raven Lelani. It’s a book that is published in the UK today, but I was so desperate to read it that I eagerly ordered an imported copy from the US, where it was published back in late summer last year. And I was well rewarded for my eagerness, because the book is a truly electrifying read.
The story follows Edie, a young African-American woman navigating the early rungs of her pseudo-career in publishing in an achingly white-dominated environment. Among the varied sexual partners with whom she engages is middle-aged suburbanite Eric, who is in an ambiguously open marriage to wife Rebecca. Despite Eric’s sometimes tedious, sometimes infantalising and sometimes downright violent treatment of Edie, she is still unable to reconcile a whiff or rejection from him, and finds herself turning up at his home. It is there that she runs into Rebecca, and so begins an awkward triumvirate of a relationship that as much involves the adults as it does Eric and Rebecca’s adoptive daughter, Akila.
On the cusp of teenagehood, Akila is a young Black girl, whose assimilation into life with her parents is coloured (no pun intended) by this fact. There’s a whiff of intention in seeing Edie as a solution to this challenge when, somewhat surprisingly, Rebecca invites Edie to live with them.
But the truth is more complicated, and Lelani’s evocation of this story and its awkward dynamics is equally nuanced. Her use of language is by turns poetic, hilarious and clever—lines jump out at you to be read again and again. With Edie at its centre, Luster depicts a multifaceted, at times painfully-relatable, messed-up, deceptively astute heroine who is seeking to understand the world outside her—a world shot through with the politics of race, gender and sexuality—but more than anything, she is seeking to be understood, and to comprehend her own sense of self. It’s a superb debut novel, and that is why Luster by Raven Lelani is my Book of the Week this week.