Cover Image: Luster


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"Luster is a 2020 debut novel by Raven Leilani. It follows a young Black woman who gets involved with a middle-aged white man in an open marriage. Luster was released on August 4, 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. It received mainly positive critical reception and won the 2020 Kirkus Prize for fiction."
I have gotten such interesting feedback about this story from friends - looking forward to reading.

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Edie is working out who she is. She is living in New York but not exactly thriving. She is working a dead end job and sharing a roach infested apartment with a roommate she never sees. Her social life is a series of sexual encounters, both at work and with men she meets in bars or online. She used to paint but doesn't anymore. Edie is drifting and she knows it, but doesn't know how to change.

Her most recent man is Eric. He works in the city and at night returns to his wife, who is a pathologist and the black teenager, Akila, they have adopted. Edie and Eric have the beginnings of a relationship and when Edie loses her job and her apartment, Eric's wife, agrees to Edie moving in and helping there. The wife seems unsure about how she feels about Edie; distant and rejecting one moment, going to a concert with her or buying Edie paints the next. Akila becomes attached to Edie as she is the only other black person she sees, her adoptive parents and her classmates being white. But is this a step forward for Edie or just another misstep?

This is Raven Leilani's debut novel and it echoes her own life. She was born and raised in New York and thought she would be an artist as art was her early passion. She studied under authors such as Zadie Smith, Jonathan Safran Foer and Katie Kitamura. This novel won several prizes such as the Kirkus Prize and the Center For Fiction First Novel Prize. Leilani captures the aimlessness of a young person realizing that their life is theirs to make of it what they will and that they are responsible for the choices they make. Readers will by turns be frustrated and cheer for Edie as she stumbles towards what she wants to make of her life. This book is recommended for literary fiction readers.

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This checked all the boxes of a contemporary novel for me. On the surface, it appears Edie's relationship with Erik is important but halfway through I realized how he is merely the window dressing to attract and get Edie through the door. What really matters and drove this home was the interactions Edie has with Rebecca and Akila. This is where the real emotion hits. Erik represents the benign humiliation and aggression that while real is surface level. It's what Edie/we focus on while avoiding true emotions and addressing our trauma. Brilliant.

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This book was a wild journey. It was so messy, but I loved it! It was definitely a different read and not what I was expecting but I still enjoyed it nonetheless.

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I thought I would like this book. I expected to like this book. In reality, I'm surprised I was even able to finish it. This book was one of dysfunction, trauma, and mess from not just the main character, Edie, but the supporting characters. Don't get me wrong, these things can be wielded into a great story, but this was not all. I walked away from this book thinking, "what in the world was that"?

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Edie is an young twenty something black female artist who is listlessly drifting through New York City with a job that she doesn’t particularly like, an apartment filled with vermin, and a misguided approach to sexual encounters with the men in her life.

When she entangles herself in the open relationship of a white married couple, soon Edie finds herself more immersed in their lives than she initially expects, from living in their house to being a strange roll model to the couples adopted black daughter.

I give this one all the ⭐️’s! I saw a few reviews that weren’t too keen on the lack of dialogue and how the story flowed mainly in the uninterrupted observational mental workings of the main character but I loved it. There was something about the way Leilani immerses you into the mind of Edie that was visceral and refreshing as well as the writing itself was just a beautiful poetic journey.

Though I can’t relate to the main character as a young black woman, I connected so strongly to stream of consciousness structure and how Edie picked herself apart the way another person would pick at their fingernails. I felt as if throughout the entire journey Edie’s vulnerability and approach to her lot in life was an experience I have shared in my own way.

It was also nice to have the sexual relationship take a back seat throughout the story and I think the major impact of Leilani’s choice of limited dialogue was able to really show some personable attachment or lack there of between Edie and others. It makes sense that at least for me, it seems like most of the dialogue that did take place was between the wife, who straddles this other woman/maternal counterpart and the young daughter of the couple.

This was a fortifying look at a person with internalized trauma looking for agency in a world that she doesn’t quite fit in that I think deep down connects to a lot of people. I urge anyone looking to read it to step back and let Leilani guide you through this mental turmoil that makes up the beauty of this book.

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I don't remember when I first became aware of this book, but I know that whatever I had read about it, I thought it would have lesbian content. However, the f/f scenes were almost nonexistent and we never learn whether Edie is bisexual or pansexual. What we do know is that she is unapologetically sexual. She is also fairly open about her health in a way that reminded me of Samantha Irby's Meaty.

The book begins when she is about to meet Eric, a man in an open marriage who is over 20 years her senior. The two have been exchanging steamy messages for months and they will finally meet. The scene is charged with sexual energy even if the date itself is fairly G-rated. The plot continues with Edie learning the rules of their relationship as established by Eric's wife Rebecca.

Edie is obsessed by Rebbecca and one day decides to visit Eric and Rebecca's house. After finding the door open, decides to walk around the house to see what she can learn about her, about Eric, about their marriage, and about their life. The scene reminded me of "Your House," the bonus track on Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill album. However, Edie is not alone in the house and she finds herself running away from Rebecca. I don't want to spoil the book, but Rebecca knows exactly who Edie is and asks her to stay. Unbeknownst to Edie, that evening there will be a party to celebrate Rebecca and Eric's anniversary.

It is at the party that Rebecca first sees Akila, a twelve-year-old African American girl the couple has adopted and who, we later learn, is still having trouble adjusting to her new life.

Rebecca is an austere, severe woman and she tries to forge a connection with Edie. Fate intervenes and their paths cross again while Eric is at a business trip and, after surmising that Edie is homeless and jobless, Rebecca invites her to stay at their house.

Edie cannot help but to feel for Akila who has no role models to help her deal with racists; no one to help her with her hair, etc. She takes the reluctant young girl under her wing and the two forge a sisterly bond. Edie also serves as a cultural ambassador of sorts, helping the parents understand their daughter.

Edie's voyeuristic, vicarious curiosity has her constantly snooping around the house and her discoveries spark her creativity. She begins to paint rather prolifically. When Eric returns he is not happy and I continued to question, apart from her penury, why Edie stayed.

Throughout the book we see the connections between the four characters ebb and flow as the author leads us down a path that seems to have an inevitable conclusion. When I finished the book (which I read in two sittings), I found that I had more questions than answers. As I sit here writing this review I question whether I enjoyed the plot or not. I was certainly hooked. I wanted to know more. I needed to understand... I think this is where the book's power lies: Leilani characters are drawn by the need to understand each other. Leilani also knows that reader will keep reading with the hopes of understanding what draws people to one another.

It is because of Leilani's power as an author that this potential 2-star read becomes a 3-star read... maybe even a 3.5.

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When this book and I started dating, my goodness, how I adored it. But in all honesty, I was first opposed to the whole idea. NetGalley, a friend of mine, unintentionally set us up. Since I hadn't asked for the date, I was displeased. But afterwards, I came to the conclusion that I should simply meet. She had a really cool sounding profile. She was also exactly my kind of literary fiction.

At first glance, there was love. There was a lot of soaring, jumping, dancing, and exhaling loud sighs. We all adore our honeymoons, don't we? I listened intently to every word because I was entranced. The sentences were original and inventive. Oh, these concepts, pictures, and storyline!

However, oh then. Things started to deteriorate at 50%, though. Oh, I'd say she was still attractive, had good bones, but she had grown stale.

A black woman in her 20s who is writhing is the star. She's cheating on him. She has issues at work. Her living condition ends up being incredibly strange, which made the book impossible to put down. She ends up helping with an autopsy, just to tease you.

The need to belong and feelings of loneliness are brilliantly explored in Raven Leilani's debut book. Edie, age 23, is lost after making some wrong sexual decisions. After losing her administrative position in the publishing sector, she has nowhere to turn until the wife of her married boyfriend takes her in. Edie now has firsthand knowledge of their sad marriage, and she gradually turns into Akila, their adopted daughter, who had previously seldom interacted with other black people.

The counselor became bossy and yelled at me to stop whining and talk to the book, saying that we should handle the situation on our own. Right, I see.

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2 "I will keep the faith despite finding this to be a H.M !" stars !!

Thank you to Netgalley, the author and both Random House Canada and Farrar Strauss & Giroux.
This was released in August 2020 and I am providing my honest review.

I will start by saying that the author appears superbly bright and talented and so giving this book only two stars is a bit uncomfortable but honest.....I generally did not like this and found it highly problematic in both psychological congruency, emotional impact and believability and plausibility of plot.

Our protagonist is 23 disenfranchised, incredibly bright and a hot mess.
Her married lover is an alcoholic misguided and predatory cad as well as a hot mess.
Her lover's wife is a controlling vulnerable automaton as well as a hot mess.

The love triangle becomes enmeshed in the most unbelievable and implausible ways and is a hot mess.

All the characters are incredibly bright with bizarre emotional reactions that reek of both psychological inconsistency and a lot of falseness that prevent empathy for developing for any of them really....really kind of a hot mess.

So yes this was a hot mess that I did not enjoy but I can feel in my bone marrow that the author has incredible potential and I feel with less stylish masturbatory fireworks the author can create something intellectually stimulating, emotionally resonant and important. (this is why the book receives two stars rather than the one star that I experienced)

This book though was you got it A HOT MESS !

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I so wanted to like this book but sadly I did not. I was expecting a sexy story of a women making her way in the world and while there was plenty of sex in this book it was not at all sexy. Edie was so self destructive, making the worst possible decisions at every turn without ever really breaking that pattern. The last five minutes did appear to show that maybe, just maybe, she was finally finding who she is in the world but nothing up to that point gave me much hope for her.

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I liked this a lot, particularly the writing. The story was one of those where I spent the whole book thinking "why are you doing this?!?" because everyone is a mess. This was a "couldn't put it down" book for me, and I actually stayed up way too late to finish it one night, which I haven't done in a long time

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It's hard to believe this is a first novel, as Leilani writes with such a masterful elegance, packing meaning into brief passages. She writes like a poet and her central character, a young black woman exploring her identity and her desires, passes through the novel in somewhat of a dream state, interrogating the objects and people she encounters with the eye of an artist. This is a novel about emotional entanglement in a context of racial and sexual objectification, and it is ultimately about women's mutual understanding and solidarity. The male character in the sexual triad, a rather featureless white middle-aged male, at first seems to be the dominant force in this entanglement, but we soon find out that the women are in charge. Leilani is brilliant at writing him out of the picture, as his character becomes gradually less distinct, his presence fading to a ghostly remnant in the household. This isn't a book to read for the plot, but rather for its emotional depths and its questioning of racial and sexual hierarchies. Recommended for any fans of excellent literary writing.

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Wow, this book. I recognize that the writing might not be for everyone, but the stream-of-consciousness style felt so true and real to a main character in her early twenties who is figuring out who she is and what she wants. The ending was vaguely unsatisfying, but I don't mean that in a negative way at all - I think the ending is as satisfying as it could have been for a main character like Edie, but being in your early twenties is almost always unsatisfying, anyway, so I think that was the point. Either way, this really made me grateful to be past that stage in my life.

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This book has a unique writing style. It's like you never quite get into Edie's emotions or thoughts, but rather are told only what she does; leaving her feelings up to you to speculate on. Some of the metaphors and descriptions in this book were unusual and refreshing, so I look forward to seeing what the author can do in the future. However, since we didn't get that emotional component, I felt somewhat disconnected from the characters.

The characters are all flawed. This is not a plot heavy book but rather a character study of both the characters themselves and their relationships with each other. I felt that some aspects of the little plot there was were not addressed and so you weren't quite sure what exactly transpired. For example,  did Rebecca shoot the neighbor's dog with the gun? Did the attack by the police cause Edie's miscarriage? Is anyone ever going to address Eric's drug/alcohol abuse and his desire for violence towards women? I kept hoping we would see more growth from Edie...that she would realize she deserved better...but I guess true growth is slow and filled with misteps and falling into old habits.

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This book was a bit of a strange one for me - as a white, British woman in my 30s, there was an extra layer for me to get through to connect with Edie, the protagonist, and yet Leilani has created a character that manages to reach across that divide while still being centred in her identity as a Black you g woman in the US.

The politics in this book all have the small p, in that it deals with the interpersonal rather than the societal, but that doesn't make the novel any less striking.

There is an element of pathos to watching Edie constantly get into ridiculous scrapes, seeing her feel like a "failure" at art when she is only 23. At times I wanted to shake her, but at the same time, we see all the little micro-aggressions she faces from the white people around her - even well-meaning ones - and you can't help but feel for the pure exhaustion she must face in just keeping her head above water.

The reason it's a 4 star for me is because there were times when I felt like my attention was slipping in the second half, but it came good with a satisfying conclusion in the end.

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Raven Leilani's Luster is absolutely gorgeous -- the writing, the characters, the emotional depth: chef's kiss! It was an absolutely addicting read. I cannot wait to read more from this brilliant author.

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This book was quietly devastating, everything from the characterization to the circumstances and outcomes that came about. I loved the way she wrote this story, with quiet yet bold reflections that jump out from the page. I look forward to reading more from Leilani in the future - I definitely went out and bought this book.

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I was not the biggest fan of this book, I couldn't follow a longer I will, it was sporadic and all over the place, in my opinion, I wish that I could give a better if you at this book, but with not understanding, half of what I just read and not in a good sense is not a good thing.

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Stunning, well deserving of the praise it’s getting.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for letting me access an advance copy of this book in exchange for my feedback.

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What a delight! Raven delivers a book with a unique approach to how millennials see the world, race, sex, sexuality, family. I love recommending this to people for a laugh, heartbreak, the beauty of the language. The twist is delightful and not something I expected at all, and something I was delighted to follow my way through, and find again that in great writing there often are no villains, but complicated characters with complex and different longings that counted and clash against one another. What a wonderful book everyone should read, even if they aren't normally into racy or sexy books. This is more than than that, although I think we can all agree Raven's unique approach to issues placed here, including some of the really sexual, perhaps even vulgar (if you want to use that word) language is actually just delightful. A book I don't think anyone else could have pulled off nearly as well, or at all.

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