The Week in Books #77

11/14 ✅

The week in books. A slower week than some previous, but I made it through another two buzzworthy books by Black women. Let’s get to it.

1. Luster by Raven Leilani. This book has been on a lot of stacks online and I was super excited to see what the hype was all about. Did I like it? Yes, but it was also a bit of a strange one. Edie is dating a married man in an open relationship, but he isn’t actually very nice to her… I didn’t understand why she was so into him when he came across as a bit of a shit. His wife invites her to live in their home while Eric is away on business and it is so awkward… did Edie really not have any other friends or family to help her out?? Her whole world very quickly became this married couple and their adopted daughter, and it was so obviously an unhealthy situation that was destined for disaster. So in that sense the whole premise was a tad unbelievable for me, but the writing was engaging and I definitely wanted to see where things would end up.

Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She’s also, secretly, haltingly, figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren’t hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric’s family life, his home. She becomes a hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only Black woman who young Akila knows.

Razor-sharp, darkly comic, sexually charged, socially disruptive, Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.

Penguin Randomhouse

2. How the One Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones. This is a fairly intense novel about patterns of domestic abuse and patriarchy set in Barbados. I really enjoyed it, despite the dark subject matter. Lala has an emergency birth that interrupts a robbery gone wrong by her husband Adan. What follows is a series of events that are hard to describe… the baby dies, we learn the fate of Lala’s mother, we learn more about the backstory of Wilma, Lala’s grandma, and things end with a Big Bang. This book was one of MANY on this stack that included a pregnant character (Detransition Baby, God Shot, Shut Up You’re Pretty, The Dreamers, The Girl with the Louding Voice, The Stone Sky) so there was an accidental theme I suppose haha. This one was definitely the most depressing outcome for the pregnancy though, so be forewarned. I liked the depictions of the beach and the tunnels that ran underneath the city, and Lala’s determination was admirable. Be prepared to hate almost every man that appears in this story (much like in God Shot).

In Baxter’s Beach, Barbados, Lala’s grandmother Wilma tells the story of the one-armed sister, a cautionary tale about what happens to girls who disobey their mothers and go into the Baxter’s Tunnels. When she’s grown-up, Lala lives on the beach with her husband, Adan, a petty criminal with endless charisma whose thwarted burglary of one of the beach mansions sets off a chain of events with terrible consequences. A gunshot no one was meant to witness. A new mother whose baby is found lifeless on the beach. A woman torn between two worlds and incapacitated by grief. And two men, driven into the Tunnels by desperation and greed, who attempt a crime that may cost them their freedom—and their lives.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House is an intimate and visceral portrayal of interconnected lives across race and class in a rapidly changing resort town, told by an astonishing new author of literary fiction.

Harper Collins

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