Lush Livesby J. Vanessa Lyon
With beguiling wit and undeniable passion, Lush Lives is a deliciously queer and sexy novel about bold, brilliant women unafraid to take risks and fight for what they love
An unabashedly charged love story set in the evocative and high-stakes world of art and auction in New York City, Roxane Gay Books’ second title is a crowd-pleaser in the vein of Jasmine Guillory’s The Wedding Date and Helen Wan’s The Partner Track.
For Glory Hopkins, inheriting her Aunt Lucille’s Harlem brownstone feels more like a curse than a blessing. As a restless artist struggling to find gallery representation, Glory doesn’t have the money, time, or patience to look after the aging house of an aunt she barely knew. But when she stumbles into Parkie de Groot, a savvy, ambitious auction house appraiser on the verge of a coveted promotion, her unexpected inheritance begins to look more promising. Glory and Parkie form an unlikely alliance and work to unearth the origins of a rare manuscript hidden in the brownstone’s attic. In doing so, they uncover not only the well-kept secrets of Lucille’s life but also the complex relationships between Harlem and its distinguished residents.
Undeniable as their connection may be, complications arise that threaten to tear apart their newly forged relationship. Between Parkie’s struggle to overcome the heartache of past romances and professional problems that threaten to end her rising career, and Glory’s unbridled and all-consuming ambition, they begin to keep secrets from each other. The deeper they dig into the mysteries of the Harlem brownstone, the more fraught their relationship becomes.
Lush Lives is an unforgettable novel of queer love, ambition, and the forgotten histories that define us.
“A vibrant, sexy, queer contemporary romance.”—Book Riot
“[A] swoonworthy romance . . . [Lush Lives] is also a sumptuous story about the complicated costs of ambition.”—Electric Literature
“Lyon’s hot, perceptive novel grapples with navigating interracial relationships and issues of authenticity and selling out . . . an unerringly satisfying read.”—Booklist, starred review
“Lyon writes a compelling and sexy story of the lives of queer women, both past and present, grounded in the beautifully drawn atmosphere of Harlem. The novel successfully blends real and speculative history to evoke what may hide in the silence of historical records.”—Library Journal, starred review
“With prose that turns on a dime from blistering to sensual . . . [Lush Lives] is a treat.”—Publishers Weekly
“Lush Lives is a joy to read. It’s tender, sharp, funny, and oh so sexy. This is one to savor; I didn’t want it to end. I can’t wait to read more from J. Vanessa Lyon.”—Jasmine Guillory, New York Times-bestselling author of The Proposal
“Smart, sophisticated, and deeply romantic. Lush Lives explores queer love and life amidst an evocative backdrop of art, auction, and the history of Harlem. I was captivated.”—Helen Hoang, New York Times-bestselling author of The Kiss Quotient
“Insightful, brazen, and groundbreaking in its vivid portrayal of boundary-pushing characters who rarely get the spotlight, Lush Lives is the total package — a sexy queer romance with substance.”—Camille Perri, author of When Katie Met Cassidy and The Assistants
“With a singular voice, Lyon weaves an unforgettable romance in the elite art world, one full of tenderness, fierce hope, and self-empowerment.”—Ashley Herring Blake, author of Astrid Parker Doesn’t Fail
Written by Keturah Jenkins for Lush Lives
1. Lush Lives opens with a poem by Jennifer Tseng, which the author Lyon describes as the “perfect passing poem in this book about reimagining erasures.” Do you agree with this assessment? Elaborate on your response. Furthermore, examine how the author tackles the theme of marginalized communities throughout the novel. Consider the various ways the poem uses the word “queer.” What could be the reason behind this?
2. Explore how racism, disability, and art influence the characters’ lives and shape their experiences.
3. In Lyon’s portrayal of sapphic love, she provides a nuanced and complex perspective on queer relationships. Explore how the novel dismantles and avoids harmful lesbian tropes.
4. Glory’s lofty ideals for Parkie are unattainable and eventually lead to a break in their relationship. Discuss why Glory might hold unrealistic expectations of Parkie.
5. We are introduced to the remarkable Lucille through her brownstone and a series of hidden letters. Lucille has a larger-than-life presence and a significant impact on the other characters and the plot. What is Lucille’s role and power within the story? Why do you think Glory inherited Lucille’s estate instead of another family member?
6. Analyze the differences in the upbringing of Glory and Parkie and how each handles the criticism, “glorified paper-shredding” (pg. 72), and gaslighting, which involves being “unhearing and unreacting” (pg. 205), from their respective parents. What does Lyon suggest about the ways in which family dynamics influence identity?
7. Analyze society’s perception of ambitious women in the novel by exploring Glory’s desperate search for gallery representation and Parkie’s readiness to make unethical decisions to achieve her coveted promotion. Additionally, cite other instances in the story where women exhibit drive and determination.
8. In the novel, Glory receives a promising offer to work with Sarkisian, a commercial galley with a reputation for representing “certain kinds of artists for certain kinds of reasons” (pg. 195). Glory is uncertain about her career path “BIPOC women, queer BIPOC women, are still firmly entrenched at the bottom of the food chain” (pg. 45). Explore how the themes of wealth and the commodification of artists are characterized in the story.
9. In the novel, the brownstone and the auction house, Cuthbert, play an essential role in establishing a sense of place. How do these locations function as characters? How did they impact your perception of the high-stakes art and auction scene in New York City?
10. Consider the author’s message about the relevance of friendship—identify examples in the story where the characters’ connections with others transformed their lives. Take a moment to reflect on your relationships and share what makes them important to you.
11. Compare and contrast the characters of Madeline Cuthbert and Manya Shah. Highlight their similarities and differences. How does Madeline serve as a foil to Manya?
12. Writing letters plays a crucial part in the novel’s plot. The discovery of Lucille’s forgotten letters reveals the hidden secrets of her life, adding insight into a world that the characters only knew from reading. Reflect on the impact the letters have on the story and on your perception of Lucille.
13. Discuss the big reveal of the “Author” and how their rare manuscript affects the story. Were you able to guess who the author was? Have you ever read any of their published works? If so, which one was your favorite?
14. What are the major conflicts in the novel, especially those concerning Glory and Parkie? Their actions have unexpected results that impact all areas of their lives. Why do you think they choose not to confide in each other? Analyze Lyon’s commentary on the consequences of dishonesty and secrecy in the book. Then share how you would have handled each situation and whether you would have acted differently. Lastly, how does Glory’s decision compare to that of Parkie’s?
15. In nineteenth-century literature, the tragic mulatto/a trope is a stereotypical character, usually a woman of lighter complexion who is believed by some to be capable of passing for, or to be read as, white. She leads an unfulfilled, lonely life and is unable to find love. During Dr. Kenningston’s talk with Parkie about the manuscript, she refers to the “Author” as one such character. Are there others in the novel who fit this description or who subvert or complicate it?
16. Based on the story, what can you surmise about Glory’s relationship with her sister Grace? How does her affectionate bond with her brother-in-law Courtland affect her connection with Grace?
17. A notable aspect of Lyon’s novel is its inclusion of historical events such as the Harlem Renaissance—a period of cultural enlightenment for Black Americans during the early twentieth century. Harlem served as the mecca of Black artists and sparked a golden age of literature, music, theater, and art. Before reading Lush Lives, what did you know about this era? What did you think of Lyon’s portrayal of that time? What distinguishes this point in history, and how does reading about it impact your experience of the book?
18. Lyon makes a point to include the names and stories of real historical and contemporary Black and BIPOC artists throughout Lush Lives, spotlighting creatives not necessarily known in the mainstream white art world. Did any of these artists grab your attention? What did you learn about them?
19. What did you think of the ending of the novel? Were you happy with how the last chapter played out for the characters and their stories? What changes would you make if you had the chance to write the ending?
Suggestions for Further Reading:
The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
The Partner Track by Helen Wan
Seven Days in June by Tia Williams
Natural Beauty by Ling Ling Huang
Baby Bank by Sarah Robinson
A Life Worth Living by Monica McCallan
Passing by Nella Larsen
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman
In conversation with Roxane Gay
218 5th Avenue
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