Cover Image: Luster

Luster

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One of the best debuts I've ever read. I had the same feeling I did with Zadie Smith's White Teeth even though this takes a somewhat counterintuitive approach. Where White Teeth was expansive in scope, this is a lot more insular, but it pulses with just as much energy and confidence. Everything about this just worked for me. The concept, the language, the characters, the voice, the 'shamelessness,' for want of a better term. It's a book that isn't afraid of being as dark or as debased as the story requires. It's honest about the character's wants and desires and actions and motivations in a way that I don't think I've ever come across, especially as the character is a black woman. The book feels shockingly free of the burden of representation, of easy categorization, in a way that reminds me of Ellison, Baldwin, and Hurston. All stylistically different, but all committed to saying what they wanted to say, what they were moved to say, whether or not it was what others wanted to hear from people who looked like them.

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“It’s that there are gray, anonymous hours like this. Hours when I am desperate, when I am ravenous, when I know how a star becomes a void.”
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Thanks to @netgalley and @fsgbooks for the advanced e-copy of LUSTER by Raven Leilani. Oh Luster, I couldn’t put this one down. Even when I sometimes wanted to look away in uncomfortable, awkward agony (like when Edie is caught in the house of the much older married man she’s sleeping with by his wife. Or when she confronts a coworker and ex lover demanding to know if he got her fired. Or when it seems the wife of aforementioned married man needs Edie to move in with them and befriend their adopted adolescent daughter because they are white and Edie, like their daughter, is black. Or when said married man finds out Edie has been staying at his house...). All this mixed up together with Edie’s racing, often slightly manic internal monologue - a convincingly millennial/Gen Z mashup of superego, ego and id i.e. narcissism and self-loathing with a hearty dose of loneliness and isolation - make for a narrator that is absolutely relatable and empathic even when some of the situations she finds herself in are hard to keep reading and occasionally hard to understand. This topped off with Raven Leilani’s lyrical prose, even when describing the roaches infesting Edie’s apartment, or the mice caught in sticky traps, make this book anything but “quotidian” (a lovely word peppered throughout this novel and one I am not ashamed to say I had to look up).

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This book! I don’t even know where to begin! It is just so unique, and bold, and completely captivating.

I typically really enjoy what I refer to as “small but mighty” literary fiction - books under 300-ish pages that push boundaries and storytelling norms - but Luster sets itself apart from other SBMs because the story’s incredible power comes from its profound vulnerability.

Leilani’s writing is at times dreamy and exploratory, but it is also explicit, sharp, and clever. The story feels so raw and real that I found myself physically cringing, laughing, and raging through its pages.

Luster is visually and emotionally evocative. This story daringly challenges relationship norms, as well as ideas about women’s sexuality and race, and also speaks candidly about mental health. It is unflinchingly detailed, yet unapologetically blunt, and Leilani boldly crosses lines and blurs boundaries left and right.

Raven Leilani is a bold and revolutionary voice in a new wave of exploratory authors in literary fiction. I am so grateful that she gave us Luster and can’t wait to see what she creates next.

CW/TW - physical violence, police violence, abortion, m*scarriage

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“For most of my life, I have not had to tell anyone where I planned to be. I could walk the length of Broadway without a face. I could perish in a fire and have no one realize until a firefighter came across my teeth in the ash.”

Luster, by Raven Leilani is a sharply written story that takes on this complex emotion and state of being with a modern flare. In her debut novel, Leilani offers a powerful take on the lengths one will go to validate their existence. Her captivating story is an eye opening experience that examines race, sexual exploration and the internal craving to be acknowledged. Luster is a contemporary triumph ideal for 2020.

“He is the most obvious thing that has ever happened to me, and all around the city it is happening to other silly, half-formed women excited by men who’ve simply met the prerequisite of living a little more life, a terribly unspecial thing that is just what happens when you keep on getting up and brushing your teeth and going to work and ignoring the whisper that comes to you at night and tells you it would be easier to be dead.”


Edie is a young Black woman in her 20’s trying to make sense of her life. As an aspiring artist, she scrutinizes the people around her with her paintbrush. Through her poor choices and actions, Edie seeks out the universe to just notice her. Not only does her inappropriate behaviors at work lead her to unemployment, but she meets Eric (an older white man) on an online dating app and begins a relationship with him. Their time together is anything but typical. Edie’s and Eric’s affair swells to more than just cybersex when she discovers that he is married and in an open marriage with his wife. Edie’s perspective on life changes when she finds herself living at Eric’s house with his wife and adopted Black daughter. While bunking in a spare bedroom, she continues to paint those around her on anything that resembles a blank canvas. As relationships evolve under the same roof, the discomfort of their circumstances continue to widen.

“A way is always made to document how we manage to survive, or in some cases, how we don’t. So I’ve tried to reproduce an inscrutable thing. I’ve made my own hunger into a practice, made everyone who passes through my life subject to a close and inappropriate reading that occasionally finds its way, often insufficiently, into paint.”


After reading Luster, I had to sit with my thoughts to make sense of what I read. The plot of this story appears straightforward, but the depth of Leilani’s writing has no boundaries. I enjoyed the clever way she intertwined Edie’s need for painting with her constant self-reflection. I immediately fell into Edie’s world filled with tons of baggage, messy characters and clouds of sadness. I was particularly intrigued by her surprise relationship with Eric’s wife and adopted Black daughter. The co-mingling of Edie and Eric’s family added a layer of despair I would never have known. I love how Leilani made me feel uncomfortable under Eric’s roof. There is a bizarreness to their codependency that fascinated me and a dolefulness to her characters that I desperately wanted to remedy. It was crazy how my feelings of intrigue and frustration could exist all at the same time. The unconventional dynamics and issues of race provided much clarity on these dimly lit characters that I so desired. While there are a few splashes of dark humor throughout Leilani’s story, her book was more of a provocative wonder that implores to be talked about. The visible feeling of loneliness is widespread in this book. If you are in the market for a relevant and meaty read, Luster sparks conversation…….read this with your bookish friends.

Thank you to Netgalley and FSG Books for the advance copy of Luster in exchange for an honest review.
Pub Date 8/4/20

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This book is clever and entertaining in a number of ways that are hard to explain. It's like watching a trainwreck - I was annoyed with the main character at times, yet I still empathized with her. I'm looking forward to more works by this author!

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When I think about how to describe this novel, I keep coming back to the same phrase: fever dream. It isn't realist, exactly. It isn't surrealist, exactly. It's somewhere between the two, some weird swirled mix of hyper-reality and not-exactly-reality that leaves you just enough off kilter that you never know which way it's going to go next. It's unique and weird and bold.

At first Edie will remind you of other self-destructive young women you've seen in other literary novels. She is aimless and at sea, making terrible decisions especially when it comes to men. But from the very beginning there was something about Edie that hit a little too close to home. The Too Real felt a little Too Real, and this discomfort only grows as the novel expands. Edie starts dating a married man in an open relationship (mark this as the first novel with an open relationship/polyamory as a major element where I haven't rolled my eyes five times and then quit reading it) and even though she knows it is not a good decision, she clings to it because it is something. Things eventually get Weird and it is only when it has been a bit and everyone just acts like the Weird is normal and that happens 3 or 4 times that you realize that this isn't just a realistic novel about our modern times, it is something else entirely. (Even though it is still about our modern times somehow.)

When we talk about why we need new and diverse voices, this novel is such a great example of why. Leilani's style and prose are uniquely her own just like her point of view as a young Black woman. The fact that much of the book is set in a white well-off suburban home--the scene of many a modern literary novel by a white man--only makes everything new and different she brings to it even more notable.

I did have to force myself to slow down. Leilani often has very long paragraphs, my mortal enemy because my tendency to skim kicks in, especially since the Weird can be mentioned so casually that it doesn't draw attention to itself. But I was always happy to read it, it never felt like work.

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This one was dark and funny and definitely spoke to whaT it is to be 23 and searching for who you are. I really enjoyed this and thought it was sharp and witty. Definitely a book I would recommend.

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An electric debut...this book has some of the best sentence-by-sentence writing I've come across in contemporary fiction in the last few years. I think the book dragged a little bit in the middle, but still highly recommended, and looking forward to whatever Raven Leilani comes out with next.

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Edie was definitely an interesting and intriguing character and I have never read another character like her.. She lives day by day on pure survival until she meets Eric and gets drawn into his world. Eric has a wife that works in a morgue and they have adopted a young black daughter. Edie and Eric meet online and begin meeting up for
sexual conquests originally. After losing her apartment, Edie becomes a part of the family and moves into the family home. The wife knows about the whole thing and they develop a friendship of sorts. This was definitely an eye opening and unique read. Thanks for the ARC, Net Galley.

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Edith is a 22 year old African American woman; ,she is an aspiring artist, who works in publishing. Edie meets Eric, a middle aged white man who is in an open marriage. Edie ends up meeting his wife Rebecca, and moving in with them as a mentor for their adopted black daughter. There are many emotional twists and turns through the book. It is poignant and heartbreaking. The topic of racism, white privilege and treatment of African Americans by the police are addressed.

I liked: Edie, the story, and the writing after I got used to it.

This book was uncomfortable to read but it's important to read books that are uncomfortable.

Thank you to NetGalley for the free ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Edith, the character of this wonderful book, is an artist in search of herself and a way of expressing her feelings. So far, her only notable work has been the portrait of her dead mother, not a painting people would like to see, so it's hidden somewhere inside a closet and forgotten. It resurfaces, as well as her need to paint, after she loses almost everything. And this is where art imitates life or the other way around, because, in order to reconstruct your life, you need to deconstruct it first. Edith's inability to paint a self portrait, no matter how many times she trashes or cleans or changes the background, is reflected in her struggle to see herself through her own eyes. At the beginning of the book she lets men use her body, she tolerates a lot of physical pain, she has no self-esteem. Everything changes when she intrudes into Rebecca and Akila's lives and accepts (or is forced) to live with them. As she starts to compare herself to them, to add a new perspective, her portrait becomes more detailed, the brushstrokes more vigorous. At the end, when she is on her own again, she has clearer goals, a path to follow.

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I made it about 25% through this book but it just wasn't for me. I like the characters with and without flaws. Unfortunately the book itself just wasn't for me. I would be interested in following this author for other books in the future.
Thanks for the early review.
#Luster #Netgalley #FarrarStrausandGiroux

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“Between his abrupt cancellations, I realize that I need him, too. In a way, that makes my dreams delirious expressions of thirst—long stretches of yellow desert, cathedrals hemmed in dripping moss. By the time we set our first real date, I would’ve done anything.
He wanted to go to Six Flags.”

Sharp, funny and sad. This book is a journey!

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Luster was fantastic! I was hooked immediately. Edie is a smart, funny, lost protagonist and a great narrator for this story. Leilani's writing style, like the long, run-on sentences trying to follow a wandering train of thought felt so appropriate for the feeling of being 23. The interactions Edie has with her coworkers and every member of the family were so interesting, and while I thought the story was great, I would have listened to her forever.

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What an absolute marvel of a book. Raven Leilani carries us through a brief period in the life of her protagonist, Edie, as she struggles (or really, allows herself to struggle) to be part of an open relationship involving a married man and being a young Black woman navigating capitalism, industry, and artistry in New York City. Each sentence is carved finely to cut like glass, and even as some sentences unspool to take up line after line on the page, not a single syllable is wasted; these sentences and psychological revelations are the work of a master.

Edie will frustrate you, and you will want to help her even as she refuses to help herself. LUSTER is a book about being a person who so desperately wants to be the best they can be, while denying themselves every opportunity to do that just because they know they can. It's bleak, funny, and raw; I loved this book.

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A bullet of a book that shoot right to the gut, Luster follows Edie as she navigates a life rife with poverty, power struggles, issue of race, loneliness and more. While this may sound bleak, Leilani has an extreme gift for humor, often made more poignant by its heavy truth: "And then the worst part of meeting a man in broad daylight, the part where you see him seeing you, deciding in this split second whether any future cunnilingus will be enthusiastic or perfunctory." "What they say about not sh#tting where you eat only holds if they pay you enough to eat." The main plot of the novel follows Edie, a twenty-three-year-old woman living in New York, as she enters into a sort of relationship with Eric, a white married man who is twice her age. As the relationship progresses and stalls, sputters and swirls, Edie is drawn closer into Eric's life, eventually moving in with him and his wife, Rebecca, and their adopted daughter Akila, who, like Edie, is Black woman living in mostly white world. Some of the strongest moments in the book revolve around Akila, her interactions with both Edie and her parents, culminating in a scene towards the end that is devastating in its truth. Edie herself lives in a world where she has never experienced a healthy sort of love, and she moves from one person to the next seeking, if not love, then connection, a sort of communication and confidence. Throughout, Edie works through the difficult realities of her sexual experience: "I've exposed my body for nothing. For a tip, for lunch, for a hand attached to a man I couldn't see. This novel deals frankly and insightfully with the subjects it explores, including sex and power and race. While the novel, for me, ends with a movement towards a better emotional place for Edie, one knows that the challenges she faces will not go away just because she moves towards a healthier emotional state, because, yes, "all of it, even the love, is a violence."

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Luster by Raven Leilani is an impressive debut. Confident, bold, darkly humorous it focuses on capitalism, freelancing, dating, and race. Leilani's sentences are absurd, startling, and envy-inducing. I felt I was encountering the work of a genius at the beginning of her career. This is an exciting,
thrilling book and I doubt I'll read a better debut this year. Thank you NetGalley for providing a look at this novel.

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Wow! The writing in Luster is spectacular. Edie is an artist and a young black woman, adrift in life. She's dysfunctional, lonely, and self-destructive, On the other hand, she's sharp, laugh-out loud funny, unique,, and brilliantly observant. She's having an affair with Eric, a married man gets fired from her job for sexually inappropriate behavior in the office. She winds up at Eric's home in NJ, meeting his wife and his daughter., a transracial adoptee. Edie becomes an integral part of their life, a confident of Eric's wife and a mentor for his daughter. This book is so sad, but so funny; it says so much about youth, race, and our society. Raven Leilani is a great new talent.

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FABULOUS engrossing story of a young black woman in her 20s in NYC, trying make a career for herself in the art dept. of book publishing while remaining inspired to do her own art. She meets and begins an affair with a man twice her age, married and in an open relationship with his wife. Shortly after the beginning of their affair, he brings her to his home in NJ and she and his wife become amicable. Simultaneously she loses her job and apartment in NYC (due to some dubious sexual choices she made at work) and the wife invites her to stay at her lover's NJ suburban home while he is away on a business trip.

Much of the novel takes place during these few days, when the young woman meets the couple's adopted daughter, who is black, and the lover, the wife, and the daughter form a triuvirate that seems to work, in their total confusion and sadness. Once the husband returns from his trip, living together becomes tense and the novel ends with a lot of questions.

The protagonist is wise and thoughtful, articulate about covert racism and trying to both mentor the daughter as well as keep her distance, for her own sake and the sake of her lover and his wife. A real psychological drama and extremely well researched and executed.

I look forward to Ms. Leilani's future work. Incredible debut.

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An amazing debut novel.A book full of characters searching for happiness life.Situations they find themselves drew me in kept me racing through the pages.Highly recommend this novel and this author is one Inwill be recommending and following.#netgalley #fsg

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