Cover Image: Luster

Luster

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Member Reviews

Wow, this book! I read it so fast, because I didn’t want to stop! Edie is a a Black woman in her early 20s, living in New York, working a job in publishing that barely pays her enough to live, saddled by student loan debt, and basically drifting through life. She has an affair with a married man, Eric, who has an open marriage, and ends up living with his family in New Jersey when she loses her apartment. This is definitely a crazy set up, and I found the relationships between the wife, Rebecca, and Edie, and their adopted daughter, Akila, and Edie, much more compelling than Eric and Edie. In fact, Eric was the least interesting person in that house by far! 
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I loved the author’s almost stream of consciousness writing style, it’s quite an addictive read, and it makes me very happy that my 20s are over 🤣  There are themes of race, class, sex, loneliness and a feeling of general ennui throughout.
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I guess it's natural to be slightly underwhelmed by a book that's gotten as much hype as Luster has.  And it absolutely does deserve the hype, in a lot of ways.  Raven Leilani's voice and writing style are spectacular, and so is her characterization of protagonist Edie.  This is very much a "disaster women" book (i.e., a subgenre of literary fiction about 20-something year-old women having a lot of casual sex and making terrible life decisions) but it's also its own thing, refreshing both in voice and structure. 

My main issue with this book isn't even something it did wrong, per se - but about 40% through the book it took a turn that I didn't want it to take, and we ended up spending the rest of the book in a situation that I found much less interesting than the one that had been presented to us at the beginning.  I didn't find Rebecca to be a particularly convincing figure and her dynamic with Edie really failed to engage or move me.  Even less interesting to me was Eric, Edie's love interest, an older, married, white man (Edie is a Black woman, and much younger than Eric - it's a dynamic that facilitates moments of sharp insight on Leilani's part but Eric himself is something of a wet blanket).  It's Edie herself that holds this novel together (she's a realistic, sympathetic, compelling figure); it's the circumstances she finds herself in that I felt didn't ultimately live up to their narrative potential.

I initially gave this 4 stars but I waited a few weeks to write this review and in that time this book has sort of faded in my estimation and I haven't really thought about it since putting it down, so that's never an amazing sign.  I think this is a promising debut in a lot of ways and Raven Leilani is absolutely an author I'll be keeping an eye on, but this didn't quite do what I wanted it to do for me.
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Luster falls into a category people have taken to calling "millennial fiction." Think Sally Rooney or Naoise Dolan. But Luster also dovetails with another nebulous category that often overlaps with millennial fiction, which is the Messy Woman genre (think Halle Butler's The New Me, The Pisces, etc). Neither of these are official genre categorizations, but there's definitely been a trend in these books about young, usually white, millennial women who just can't seem to get their lives together.

Immediately, Luster is distinguished by virtue of its Black lead; her identity immediately lends a different tone to the narrative. I appreciated the heft this lent the narrative, particularly as Edie's identity as a Black woman is inextricably tied to the plot of the novel, which is: after losing her job, Edie temporarily moves in with the married older white man she has been casually dating, Eric, only he is in an open marriage and lives with his very weird wife and his adopted Black daughter, Akila.

I tend to have very little patience with the Messy Woman genre, mostly because I cannot relate to it on any level whatsoever, but also because I find it frustrating to follow a character who constantly makes really bad decisions and never learns from their mistakes. So I was already starting Luster at somewhat of a disadvantage, predisposed to dislike it. It didn't help that it falls into the camp of literary fiction that features very weird characters making incredibly bizarre decisions with no explanation whatsoever. Like, Rebecca, Eric's wife? I have no idea what was going on there. She seemed to exist solely as a plot device, because I have no clue what was going on through her head or why she did the very strange things she did. I understand that part of the problem is that we are seeing everything through Edie's very limited and very biased perspective, but this didn't make me any more inclined to be sympathetic to the very weird goings-on in this book.

Akila was the one bright spot. She is Eric and Rebecca's adopted pre-teen daughter, being raised in a white neighborhood by clueless white parents. She is clever and quick, loves anime and video games, is super into cosplay, and is just an all-around geek doing her best to find some stability in her life. With Edie, she has someone in her corner standing up for her and teaching her how to do her hair. Their relationship was incredibly sweet, and Akila is the best character in the whole damn book.

Besides the bizarre actions being taken by Eric, Rebecca, and Edie, I was also annoyed by the languid, formless plot. I know that tends to be a staple of this sort of fiction, but I found it extra exasperating here, when we were spending so many scenes on Edie just being...introspective or doing some mundane task. I will say, the writing is pretty good (though it definitely got carried away with its own grandeur sometimes) and very, very clever; there were so many sentences were I had to pause and re-read because I was so enamored of the way the author chose to frame a particular idea. The overall tone of the narrative is very dry and sardonic, which I appreciated.

I think, if I were ever going to be converted to truly like the Messy Woman genre, it would have been with this book, but overall my reading experience was lackluster and somewhat unpleasant. I found this to be, if not depressing, then oddly stagnant, and yes, I know that's the point, but...I don't like that. So while I can totally see why some people would love this, it's really just not for me.
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I can totally understand why people are raving about this book. It's provocative, dark, unflinching, gritty, and very much of the times. But something about the writing style just didn't jive with me, and it made it very difficult to get fully immersed into the story. Thankfully, this one doesn't need a rave from me as it's made such an impact already. I'd be interested to see the plot of Leilani's next book!
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Luster is part of a trend of stories about young women making terrible decisions, clearly in need of therapy and struggling to belong in a society that she feels disconnected to. It's a subgenre I really enjoy reading, and I'm always looking for a book that will give me the chaotic experience of reading The Pisces, My Year of Rest and Relaxation or Supper Club. I enjoy the dry humor and the sharp critique of society that comes from such books, and with Luster you definitely get that. Still, I had a somewhat mixed experience with it, in which I really adored some parts, how insightful and pointed the writing was, how Edie goes through the world as a complicated woman and the stakes are that much higher because she's Black; but I spent most of the book feeling quite tired by the particular way she made her choices and the constant humiliation she went through and did not fight back at all. This was quite exhausting to read, just waiting for the next humiliation that for sure would come while she put up no defense for herself. Her justifications on why she continued her relationship with the dead fish of a man who had zero spine and zero personality. I felt no connection between them at all, and while Edie herself explains that she knows she's with him just to be with someone, I still did not feel that this justification was entirely understandable to me. Edie was clearly a smart woman, and still we never really get to see that shine. Her relationship with every single person in this book involves being humiliated in some way, even by Akila, the Black child of the white couple she's messily entangled with. 

The plot did not seem to go anywhere and I don't think Edie left this story much different - I would have liked to see her self-confidence improve, to see her fight for herself and what she wants, to perhaps see more of how she feels now that her relationships with every member of the family are over. It's a big shift in her life and I hoped for more of an emotional punch there.

I'm sorry I sound so negative about this book, but I truly expected to love it! I did enjoy the writing most of the time (it's sharp and a bit flowery) and the observations Edie makes on sexuality, on racism at work, about being a token, and how the stakes are higher for her as a Black woman, how Akila is from a rich, white family and suffers from the racism her parents don't even see. It's an exploration of the life of a messy Black woman who makes questionable choices but is brilliant and so full of potential as an artist. I enjoyed this book but expected a bit more out of it!
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First impression
Luster is not the definitive Black millennial novel. There is no such thing. But it is a brilliantly observed and brazen book that challenges the racial and sexual politics of this moment. It is the messy bold story of a messy, bold and complicated 23 year old editorial assistant/struggling artist who gets involved with an older married man in a supposedly open marriage. Their entanglement, however, is just about the antithesis of ethical non-monogamy. Black women aren’t magic. We are human. And so is Edie. The subject matter is frequently difficult, and things don't end neatly, but Raven Leilani's prose is gorgeous even when she's plumbing the ugly depths of what two or three people do to each other. It is definitely worth your time and thought.
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An open marriage of  an archivist and an autopsist leads a young black woman into an uncomfortable situation between the two of them and their child.
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This book was unique, but sometimes in a way that was distracting. It was wordy at times. It seems that the author wanted to include shock value, but again, sometimes it was more distracting than anything. The story was intriguing, but the delivery was not what it could have been.
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Luster is *technically* a coming-of-age story about young Edie getting tangled in an open marriage. I say technically because Luster is a book whose one-line synopsis doesn’t do it justice. Its sharp, beautiful, vivid, often hilarious prose will knock you speechless. This is a brilliant debut novel you don’t want to miss.
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It took me entirely too long to read this ARC that I ended buying a final copy. 

'Luster' felt like an inside joke between the writer and her character. I am a millennial, and I love chaos, I love picking up and changing jobs, I love dating men I am not supposed to, but I couldn't connect with Edie. This book went from overwhelming in an excellent way to underwhelming in 240 pages. Raven Lelani gives you honesty. It often reminded me of Junot Diaz or even Samantha Irby. The prose was beautiful, but it wasn't much of a story. 

I would still pick up a Raven Leilani book because she can WRITE, ok? But 'Luster' just wasn't it, so I gave it two stars.
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An impressive debut. The novel yokes what might seem a predictable sexual scenario to something larger and more contemporary, using the device of a narrator whose scathing perceptions and unpredictable actions keep the reader on her toes. Cinematic evocation of New York and the suburbs add context to a memorable, unusual and surprisingly affecting piece of work.
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I get why people don't love this book, but I REALLY enjoyed it. The topics are uncomfortable, but our protagonist is lovely.
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I was excited or this book, but it didn't live up to the hype for me. I feel like I heard a lot about this book everywhere I turned, so it made me excited to read it. Unfortunately, it fell flat for me. The writing style was not for me and I just could not get caught in the characters like I expected that I would.
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Luster was unlike anything I’ve ever read. The writing is lyrical, witty, and quite phenomenal. The story is unique, controversial, and entertaining. This book is about the complications of having an open marriage, but it’s also about so much more (race and class to name a few)! If you’re ok with risqué and complex characters and plots, I recommend this novel.
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Thanks, NetGalley for the eARC.. So I did a quick read up on Raven Leilani’s background and...were there “name changes to protect identities”? Was this inspired by true events? Sis has a background in corporate archiving (for a publishing company)- hm, sound familiar? JK, You write what you know. I guess I liked this book? It was written in that “stream of conscious” style that can sometimes be confusing and exhausting, but I thought , hm, maybe that’s intentional because Edie’s life is confusing. I have been far removed from my early twenties for a little while, but definitely recall some of the waywardness exhibited by anyone just trying to figure It out. I really loved the relationship between Edie and Akilah and wanted more! I’d like a story from Akilah’s POV.
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I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I'm still unsure of how I truly feel about this book.      I expected to love it, but something just fell flat for me.     It was just "alright."  

The writing style was unique, but honestly, the book just didn't hold my attention enough.   ;[
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I really liked this book and will be including it in my roundup of recent releases next month for Mashable.com
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Luster may be the best book I’ve read all year.

Rich descriptions of emotions, beautiful rambling sentences, pinpoint observations on race, relationships that explore what partnership really looks like-spoiler alert-the sexual relationships in this book are not where the heartbreak and substance is.

It’s a classic millennial book, more focused on underlying social commentary than strong character development. The New York Times review points out that this sort of novel banks on being current and doesn’t stand the test of time (the reviewer throws Sally Rooney and Kristen Roupenian under this generalization too), which may ultimately prove to be true but, for now at least, I’m here for it and think that you should be too.
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Luster was an interesting story about a young woman who has an affair with a married man, and becomes entangled with his family and their life. I liked the writing style and the protagonist Edie was clever and funny. Much of the story is dark, but overall well written.
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This book knocked me sideways. It was a hard read at times, especially as I loathed Eric, the married man Edie becomes involved with. (Although Eric is possibly the least important person in the book). It is a book that has you thinking “you deserve better” for Edie every step of the way, not only in terms of love, but generally as a bright young Black woman in America, undervalued at every turn, even by herself. Raven Leilani is brilliant on race, class and being young. She has created a flawed character who I adored and the story is unpredictable, compelling and ultimately hopeful.
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