An affair with a family
Luster – Raven Leilani (2020)
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Page Count: 240 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
The one thing which stands out about Edie, 23 and an employee of a publishing company, is her self-awareness. The novel is raw and honest because Edie is at an age where she can see the struggles of a young Akila and the stripped down comfort and functioning of a long marriage, with neutral eyes.
Luster by Raven Leilani can be found on all August reading lists along with The Death of Vivek Oji and Summer by Ali Smith. Zadie Smith reviewed the debut novel and The New Yorker described the writer as “a sharp phrasemaker” The book truly deserves its place on all these lists as it takes a different look at relationships among different people.
Edie starts a relationship with Eric, a man twice her age. Its difficult to tell what it is about Eric which pulls Edie towards him and neither does she dwell on it much. In an unexpected twist, Eric’s wife Rebecca takes Edie into their home where she begins to experience various familial relationships with the family.
“He is the most obvious thing that has ever happened to me, and all around the city it is happening to other silly, half-formed women excited by men who’ve simply met the prerequisite of living a little more life, a terribly unspecial thing that is just what happens when you keep brushing your teeth and going to work and ignoring the whisper that comes to you at night and tells you it would be easier to be dead”
At its core, the book deals with emotions which are familiar to most – loneliness, failure and a sense of belonging. Edie, almost destitute, begins to work on her art slowly as she settles into Eric’s house. Maybe she finds comfort in the rhythm of a family after not taking care of herself for many years.
It is impossible to ignore the tension between Eric, Rebecca and Edie as they try to work around their arrangement but sometimes, it is looked over and it feels like Edie could be a distant relative staying with the family.
Rebecca, who is described as a woman of “freaky competence”, seems different from Edie but there is a lot of similarities between the two. Edie’s demeanor could be of one inclining towards depression and her own competence comes out slowly through the book.
Edie and Rebecca’s daughter, Akila begin a friendship – probably the reason Rebecca lets Edie stay around – as she guides the teenager who is the only Black kid in the neighborhood.
The book takes a look at the different relationships and their dynamics with a fresh eye and with Raven Leilani’s excellent writing makes for a great read.