Cover Image: Luster


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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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The story of Edie, a 23-year old black woman and her complicated relationship with a white couple is visceral in its depiction of early-20’s impulsivity and barely surviving in post-college 21st century. That feeling of just ending up somewhere, failing at something, and landing randomly somewhere else reminded me of how directionless your 20’s can be. It’s a story of lonely people bumping up against each other just to be acknowledged, just to be in someone else’s attention sphere, even if only briefly.

On a sentence by sentence level, this is a beautifully crafted novel. The amount of plot, characterization, and setting embedded in single sentences is mind-boggling. They feel expansive and efficient at the same time. The way she reveals microaggressions, privilege, and casual racism is subtle and perfect. This is one of my favorite reads this year.

This is a solid 4.5 stars missing a 5 only because the ending felt a bit rushed and easily concluded.

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"... she used to attend these concerts mostly as a function of being someone's girlfriend. She was not permitted to have an opinion so much as observe these boyfriends' exhibitions of taste..."

This book was a rollercoaster of thoughts for me. It ticked every box on the "Karena won't like this" list. I had great disdain for the meandering metaphors which seemed out-of-character. I didn't love that the character development was surface-level for the reader. At times, I couldn't get past some of the more fantastical elements of the growth in the characters' relationships. I'm always looking for books about open relationships or polyamory and the intricacies of managing egos within them, so I was disappointed when it didn't really touch this conversation in-depth. However, despite missing all of my typical marks, I fell IN LOVE with Edie as a human and the very intentional choices made by Raven to explore this character in her early 20s and allow readers to see themselves within Edie.

You will enjoy this book if...

* You want to remember why you don't miss your early-to-mid 20s.
* You're seeking a lighter read that allows you to explore thoughts as deeply as you desire to. There's so much to pick-up, but you're not required to do so. This book has great re-read value.
* You enjoy characters who come to know each other differently over time. Relationships can degrade or grow exponentially and Edie's experience of coming to know new people intimately is sooooo... millennial lady in her early 20s.

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The first thing to say about this book is that the writing is absolutely gorgeous. There are so many lines that I want to go back to and just really sit with. I think it does a good job of capturing the utter uncertainty of your 20s and trying to figure out who and what you are. There's also a profound sadness to this book that is hopeful at the same time. Really powerful.

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An absolutely breathtaking debut. I look forward to reading many more books by this author. Her writing, on top of how seamlessly the story flowed really took this read to another level for me.

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Luster by Raven Leilani inhabits the dark places of Evie's twenties, when poor choices have meaningful consequences and yet there is still a level of naivete that somehow carries her through. Through strong, intelligent prose, Leilani has given the reader a fascinating heroine, who manages to make you laugh and shake your head in disappointment, all well fully wanting her to have the best of everything.

Roxane Gay says in her Goodreads review of Luster "I'm really glad my twenties are over," and I definitely agree with that sentiment in regards to this book. If Luster is a book that has caught your eye, I encourage you to pick it up.

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After reading so many amazing reviews I really thought I’d love this book, but I didn’t. I just couldn’t connect to the characters and their relationships felt so flat and distant. The writing style is quite original and the author uses beautiful prose, however this was not for me.

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I heard so much buzz about this book and I really wanted to enjoy it, but I didn't. Edie is a 23-year-old black woman living in a not-so-great neighborhood in a not-so-great apartment with a roommate. She is self-loathing to the point where I didn't even care about her by the end of the book. She seemed masochistic and shallow, which, along with the self-loathing, made it difficult to feel empathy toward her.

Edie starts a relationship with Eric, who is white, who has an open marriage, and is invited by his wife, also white, to stay with them while she looks for a job...and maybe also to be the person to help connect with their adopted daughter, who is black. Obviously there is a lot going on with race and privilege. But there is that other facet of masochism that seems to run through the characters...except maybe Eric. I don't know, I think there was a lot that could have been explored more and some things that were fleshed out that were just unpleasant.

The writing, though. I was reminded of some of the beat writers from the 50s and early 60s - Cassady's First Third and Kerouac's Dharma Bums, especially. It is stream of consciousness with amazing metaphors, which make it a somewhat difficult read. I found that I had to pay attention and get into the groove of the writing; no quickly grabbing 10 minutes of free time to get some reading in.

My thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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The author is, obviously, so talented. Her rendering of the devastation and conflicts that people confront in life, both young and old, was remarkable. However, the story plot was a bit too disconnected for me.

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An interesting and raw description of life's relationships. It is messy, but isn't that how life is? Open relationships. Adopted children. Lost jobs. Race. Lust. Sadness. Edie is "unlikable" but I still found myself rooting for her.

I could not put this book down, Really great debut and I can't want to see what she puts out next!

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Luster by Raven Leilani

I read the raves about Luster with interest but some distance, wanting to reserve judgment as I wasn't sure I would read it right away. The main plot point of Luster - the halting relationship between a young struggling artist and a man in an open marriage - felt very Brooklyn c. 2015 to me (see, cf., Kristin Dombek's Letter from Williamsburg and n+1 Help Desk columns, which I will admit I loved). But when I was granted access to an egalley, I jumped in.

Leilani plunges the readers right into Edie's chaotic life; in the first sentence Edie talks about having (cyber)sex with Eric, the man in his 40s in a somewhat floundering open marriage, at their work computers. Edie, twenty-three and Black and working an entry-level job in publishing and living in a grimy apartment in Bushwick, is full of life and words and contradictory impulses and bad decisions and practical decisions too. Reading her misadventures in Luster reminded me of my early 20s in New York: stupid excesses you did to prove to yourself you were the kind of person who could, a recklessness fueled by an unearned sense that "none of this matters anyways", asking the world to smite you and then smarting when it did. It's not that I felt a kind of connection with Edie, per se, but more that I felt a life force to her that seemed all too real.

Edie is fired from her job, takes on app-based delivery jobs to make money, but is soon evicted from her apartment. Having visited Eric's home in New Jersey once and snuck back in by herself once (and meeting Eric's wife, Rebecca), Edie is invited by Rebecca to stay there while Eric is on a business trip. There, Edie slowly starts to form a relationship with Akila, Rebecca and Eric's adopted Black daughter, whose no-bullshit sense is refreshing in a world where all the adults are engaging in subterfuge - against themselves and each other - in one way or another. The interloper as part of the household in an open marriage - in some ways it is a plot twist, but in other ways, isn't this the oldest story in the book (husband with nanny with the wife's knowledge and tacit blessing)?

No, what I found most affecting in Luster - besides Edie's camaraderie with and tenderness towards Akila - is Edie's struggles to come into her own as an artist. Her feelings of artistic inadequacy, of not being good enough - suffused the story, and I've seen this aspect of the story too little commented on in reviews. This, for me, was the aspect of Edie's character that made her so painfully raw and real to me, that helped me see a solid if wavering core to her somewhat tenuous existence. I loved Leilani's descriptions of Edie's work process, of staying up all night to paint, of being able to pinpoint just what seemed wrong with a piece of work but not knowing how to fix it. These - these - rang so true to my own experiences of creating, and I know I'm in the minority here, but I was much more interested to find out about the next development in her craft than I was about the next glance Eric shot her or the next tense exchange with Rebecca.

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Luster is like a painting that you want to like, one where you make an effort because of its originality, artistry, and because you can tell a talented mind created it. But enjoyment can't come from effort alone, I need some sort of connection, and I could not connect with this book, or its characters, or its very dry and detached writing. Give me anger, love, passion, fear, drear—any emotion!—but not this empty feeling.

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Wow, this book. It's casual in it's devastation. It's daring and honest. It's messy and lonely. What a remarkable book.

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“Luster” by Raven Leilani is fantastic story of a young African American woman named Edie living in New York City who finds herself in a strange threesome with a white married couple from New Jersey.
Edie is a hilariously real character. I wish I had her as a friend.
This book was thought provoking.

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Unfortunately, I did not finish this book so I will not be reviewing it. I reached a little under the halfway mark before giving up. This book just wasn't for me. I did not find any of the characters likeable and did not relate to them at all. I also did not enjoy the writing style.

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I feel like I've seen this book everywhere in the lead-up to its publication. You might either really love or really hate it depending on the parts of yourself (or your younger self) you see reflected back to you - or how much the slow burn of Edie's story resonates with you - but to be clear: it's just as good as all the early praise it's rightfully received.

I was sucked into Edie's story from the first page and I had a hard time putting it down. You'll wish she making different choices, but you'll never stop rooting for her to find her footing.

The writing is equal parts raw, punchy, observant, and timely with so many standout sentences and paragraphs, some you'll find yourself reading multiple times. This is an exceptional debut novel and I can't wait to read whatever Raven Leilani writes next.

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This was a tough read. The writing style is very cold and the actual story is extremely slow and depressing.

This story got under my skin, it made me feel very melancholy. There were times I didn't want to read it, and other times I didn't want to put it down. It turned out to be a very bizarre reading experience for me.

I basically feel conflicted about this book. I don't know how I feel about it.

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I was immediately sucked in to this portrait of two women and a girl (tenuously connected by a shade of a man), who you may have never been or will never be, but with whom you connect intimately nonetheless. Finished the book with a headache because I failed to look up for water or to adjust the light as the sun set.

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3/5 stars for Luster y Raven Leilani.

This book is extremely difficult for me to review because I have very conflicted feelings. The taboo plot is what kept me gripped in this story, however, the writing style was not my favorite. The writing style was very raw and difficult for me to read. I felt like we were in the head of the main character and it kept me from fully engaging in the book. I felt that this perspective was very narrow and I feel like that was the point. Unfortunately, I don't enjoy this writing style but I could see how others would enjoy it.

I loved the insight into the taboo sexual relationship that the main characters had. This is what kept me engaged in the story. It was so interesting and unique. I feel that this is where the novel shines.

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I felt so let down by this one. I had heard so many good things so my expectations were a little high.

I will say the actual writing is beautiful: the author speaks with beautiful prose. Everything described vividly. I wish I was just more invested in the story. I didn’t get attached to any of the characters except Akila. The main character Edie just seemed cold and distant. Eric was weird and I couldn’t figure out why Edie or Rebecca were enamored with him.

The casual violence that Edie seemed okay with I couldn’t understand. What she found in the monopoly box seemed important towards the end but then went nowhere.

I just found myself bored.

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