Ultraluminous

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 05 Dec 2017

Member Reviews

I didn't get too far into this book before realizing it wasn't right for me. It wasn't the explicit sex and drug use that bothered me, but more so that I was expecting a stronger rebuke against toxic masculine sexuality that never came. Maybe I didn't give it a long enough shot, but I doubt I will finish it.
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Thank you NetGalley for an advanced readers copy of this book.
Unfortunetly, I just didn’t like this book.
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Ultraluminous by Katherine Faw is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early December.

Kata, a woman apart from time, is quietly astounded at her modern New York surroundings. She is an exotic dancer and escort, goes on nameless john dates, and frequently remembers time spent in Dubai. There are so many microtransactions and instances of drug use and dealing that it feels like a blur with a reader often hoping that she finds consistency before slow-spiraling into an unexpected doomy ending.
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DNF @ 6%

I read Young God, so I did know what I was getting into by requesting this one. Or at least I thought I did. Ultraluminous is the story of a prostitute named K who makes up a different name for each new guy. No one else in this story has an actual name either. There’s the bodega guy. The art guy. The calf’s brain guy. The guy who buys’s me things. The junk-bond guy. I understand that the character herself named these characters as such as a lack of caring, deeming it unnecessary to know them personally given her job, but it resulted in an odd experience when reading about it. Her stories about each guy are told in snippets with little to no differentiation between each, almost as if it was a string of her recalling these memories instead of living them in real-time. It was easy to fall into this story and ride this strange stream of consciousness type wave but it was hard to find any entertainment in the sparseness.
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This book was not what I was expecting. Nor was it anything that would interest me. The main character, "K" or whoever, was a very disassociated "girlfriend type" prostitute, just going through life, day after day. Where was the intrigue? Most of the book was spent with random snippets about her encounters with her clients. And way too much detail about sex! I never felt any connection or sympathy for "K" and spent most of the book waiting for something to change. Sadly, when it did change, at the end, I didn't understand why. I think for me this is a one star book, but gave it an extra star because I also know that it was partly the writing style that turned me off while many others seem to like it.
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Published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux/MCD on December 5, 2017

Ultraluminous is narrated by a prostitute who buys heroin with designer labels. She describes her life and thoughts in snippets. She comments upon bars and sex and getting high and her memories of the Sheikh who paid her for sex in Dubai, starting her on the road of upscale prostitution.

The narrator comments upon the five regular men in her life, designated by descriptions (the junk-bond guy, the calf’s brain guy, the art guy, the ex-Ranger, the guy who buys her things) rather than names, presumably because their names aren’t worth remembering. She comments upon the art of prostitution (holding a man’s attention requires a prostitute to be sad but not too sad, unlike strippers who must appear to be happy). And she comments upon her sparse nonsexual interactions with the world, which primarily involve women at her nail salon, a Polish diner, Duane Reade, and her yoga class. Women judge her and she judges them for different reasons.

The snippets slowly build a picture of a bright, observant woman who is living a pointless and unsatisfying life. The title refers to an astronomical X-ray that shows the universe being ripped apart, which the narrator sees as a metaphor for her life. When asked how she can have sex with men for money, she answers “Heroin. Cocaine is for stripping.” Given the sexual tastes of the guys she describes, heroin does seem like a job requirement. But she thinks it’s blindness, the inability to see what’s coming, that keeps us alive. That might not be enough.

For much of the novel, I was wondering whether the snippets would add up to a story. It does reach a climax (pardon the pun), but before that point, the snippets add up to a life. The protagonist is unabashedly crude, but she has valuable insights into the men who either abuse or reject her (or both). Her life isn’t safe and she doesn’t seem to care. Accepting abuse is a choice she has made, a tradeoff that’s preferable to perils she might otherwise face. As she tells the junk-bond guy, “terrible things happen every day, not just to you.” Refreshingly, she doesn’t paint herself as a victim (she’s moved beyond wallowing) and spends little time telling the reader how she came to live the life she inhabits. She is who she is.

Ultraluminous might be seen as a commentary on the masters of the universe who act as if the ordinary rules of behavior don’t apply to them, who treat beautiful young men as fantasies and abuse them because they can afford to pay for the women’s acquiescence, who leave the women “on the floor of a hotel room when they got bored like anything else they once had to possess.” But more illuminating is the narrator’s ability to understand and manipulate the men, to let them control her as a way of controlling them, to take advantage of their self-delusions, to allow her body to be rented while refusing to be owned.

Ultraluminous is a powerful novel, not just in its ending (which is foreshadowed and not entirely unexpected), but in the way the snippets gain a cumulative force. What seems like a frivolous story about a frivolous person morphs into a convincing account of a damaged woman whose attempts to cope with pain — brief and infrequent moments of pure joy (not counting the heroin) — cannot undo the life into which she has fallen. There’s something exquisite about the way this story is told, and something horrifying about what it reveals.

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Interesting.  It's not clear who K really is but you do learn a lot about what she does.  She's pretty rigid in her routines, which could be a way of coping with the emotional impact of how she earns money- as a high end prostitute in New York City. Or is it something else?  Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC.  I'm not sure who to recommend this to.  It's a short novel that defies characterization but it's worth a read if you're interested in something new.
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The ending is the best thing abut this book.

K is an intriguing character, but due to her living style I couldn't identify with her. drugs and prostitution make for a seedy tale and she's ok with it.

a book that wasn't for me but it was fascinating
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While at times a bit confusing, this was an endlessly fascinating read that kept me hooked once I caught on to the tone and the style. The ending absolutely blew me away.
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The protagonist of Ultraluminous is a prostitute named K. who has just come back to New York after several years in Dubai. She immediately books five clients, one for every work day, and continues to do heroin; she has given herself a year to decide on something that will be revealed at the end of the book. 
Ultraluminous is made up of very short paragraphs often depicting very mundane situations (chitchat, sexual intercourse, outings at Duane Reade), something with a convincing turn of phrase. It's super flimsy stuff, though not unengaging. A gifted genre writer may have turned this into a decent noir, but as it's a superficial novel that gives its plot away when trying to foreshadow the ending.
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