Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up.
And then she meets Eric, a white middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.
Sadly, this book just wasn’t for me.
This was a dark but graphic novel focused on a young Black girl navigating her traumas and her own mental issues. Raven Leilani introduces us to Edie and her sexual habits, disgusting apartment and her blossoming relationship with Eric, an older married white man. Eric becomes an important figure in Edie’s life and thus, his family when she goes to live with them.
Edie’s vulnerability poured off the page and thus, reading about a young Black woman’s trauma and how it manifests into her daily life was uncomfortable.
The choppiness of the writing aided this presentation of Edie and I do believe Leilani does this deliberately.
The presentation of a vulnerable Black girl isn’t something we see often in the media, as society loves to perpetuate the strong Black female narrative.
Was this Leilani’s push against stereotypes? Quite possibly.
Edie’s relationship with sex was open. She sought it for approval and quite clearly, it became a way for her to seek some sort of solace from men, even if they were hurting her.
Evidently, I struggled to work out whether this was a book about acceptance. Edie’s thoughts were often chaotic, especially in the beginning. It seemed to me that she didn’t care about being accepted or she was seeking it in all the wrong places. However, I think the acceptance she actively sought was an extension of her loneliness.
“And when I am alone with myself, this is what I am waiting for someone to do to me…to put me down onto the canvas so that when I’m fone, there will be a record, proof that I was here…”
The writing, for me, only came together towards the middle, ironically when Edie begins to live with Eric and his wife, Rebecca.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence. And perhaps that’s a testament to Leilani’s writing – which was actually brilliant.
It proves that Edie was lonely and begins to come together when she has other people around her. Carefully crafted, Leilani has interwoven Edie into these people’s lives to show that this young lonely Black girl seeks some sort of community…in whatever shape that may look like. However, she clearly doesn’t know how to find it other than through sex.
It’s just a coincidence then that sleeping with Eric led her to these people’s lives and a dysfunctional community.
That being said…
The relationship between wife and mistress was somewhat confusing and undeniably strange.
Were they friends?
It felt odd. The ominous tone surrounding them intrigued me to begin with. I began to like them as friends. Considering, the reader is rooting for Edie’s growth, Rebecca seemed to be aiding her.
Then, Eric came back and it was just strange all over again.
Eric’s relationship with Edie was clearly destructive and damaging.
It seemed selfish.
Did he even like her? It became quite clear that he was using her for sexual pleasure. He was disturbing, and the more I read, the more uncomfortable I became. Edie felt entirely too vulnerable to be placed in this sort of situation.
I wasn’t entirely sure if I liked Edie’s relationship with Rebecca and Eric’s adopted Black daughter, Akila. I thought it was nice that Edie could point out ignorance and micro-aggression to the parents. The two could discuss hair and it was clear that Akila needed a Black female figure in her life
Edie just wasn’t in the correct headspace to be any kind of ‘mentor’ to a child.
Rebecca and Eric clearly took advantage of Edie. She alternated between the mistress, a friend that was staying with them, a lodger, an assistant to Rebecca, a mentor to their daughter or an actual daughter to them. The cycle continued depending on the moods of either parent. She became a pawn in whatever game Rebecca and Eric were playing against each other.
Except the cycle was extremely damaging to Edie.
The entire situation sounded like an utter mess from the start that Edie had no business getting involved in.
“I am good, but not good enough, which is worse than simply being bad. It is almost.”
I’m slightly intrigued to see how this book will be adapted but I’m not sure if I’ll watch it. This book has clearly a divided fanbase so if it sounds like your type of thing – I recommend trying it.
In conclusion, the writing is beautiful and dark! The author wrote her ass off! The plot…I still have no idea what to make of it.
Liz Dexter says
An interesting review, thank you. I have not fancied this as yet another book about a millennial with a messed-up life and an older man preying on a younger woman, although I’ve seen several posts extolling its virtues, too!
I don’t blame you. It’s very uncomfortable to read and I didn’t really enjoy it for that reason. The writing is beautiful though!