Cover Image: Luster


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Luster by Raven Leilani is a debut book with lengthy sentences and an unusual narration style, so much so that at times it is difficult to follow the story. This makes it tough to enjoy. That being said, the dry humor is on point, and is one of the best I have read in a long time.

Mostly well-written, the author strays from the central topic at hand several times in order to elaborate on something totally irrelevant. On the contrary, certain moments that deserved explanations in my opinion are driven through in a couple of sentences. If this was intentional, I don't see the reason why.

Thanks to the author and the publisher for the ARC.

Verdict: Read it for its mocking humor.

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This book made me a very good way. I would recommend this to anyone that likes adult fiction.

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"Luster" is a deeply moving and at times funny and insightful debut novel by Raven Leilani. On brief overview, the novel follows Edie, a young administrator in the publication industry, who is fired after multiple sexual liaisons in the office, and loses her apartment. She moves in with the man she has been seeing, who is in an open marriage, and his wife Rebecca, a pathologist, and their adoptive daughter Akila, who has been in multiple homes beforehand. There is so much in this novel to work through. Edie is a complex character- she is deeply lonely, does not feel like she deserves more than the sex that she offers up to men, and feels dismissed when it comes to her love of painting and creating art. She comes from a family with a history of generational trauma, and is now parentless. Her observations are poignant and hilarious at times, while also gut-punching. She is a fascinating narrator, with some fascinating insights beyond her years. Throughout the novel, the theme of race is presented in various ways that are quite powerful. She becomes the de facto conduit for Akila to work through her life as a black adoptive daughter of a white family in a white suburban neighborhood. Rebecca and Eric have good intentions, but have no idea what they are doing. All four of the main characters in this book are complex and interesting and gives the reader a lot to think about. Rebecca lays out rules for Edie and Eric's relationship, and then goes behind Eric and invites Edie to live with them, and it is unclear what all her intentions are. Eric appears deeply unhappy with his life as an archivist, and is a somewhat secret alcoholic. There are a lot of layers here in this relatively short novel, and it keeps the reader highly engaged. Highly recommend this book.

Thanks to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for providing me with this advanced copy for review.

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Mesmerizing work of art exploring the psychology of sexuality, race and economic struggles of a 23-year-old black woman in New York City,

Edie's use of sex as a coping mechanism might have gone out of control when she loses her job in publishing due to multiple office affairs. She is depressed, and the loss of her job adds even more fuel to the fire. Even though it wasn't exactly a dream job as one of two black people in the office, it was at least something.

That is when she meets Eric, a decades older, established man from New Jersey who's married to Rebecca. Eric is in an open marriage, so he and Edie get into a romance. In a strange spin, she moves into the white couple's house and becomes close friends with Rebecca, as well as the only other black person close to Akila, the couple's adopted daughter.

This situation is weird, completely unusual, but the novel makes you question what rules we should actually play by in a society where old rules no longer apply. It is disturbing, dark and raw, but also extremely clever, exploring various taboos I usually just put at the back of my mind. It brilliantly captures the most intimate problems Edie faces, as many young people do too. Leilani not only wrote a beautiful piece of literature, but also made me reconsider my own beliefs about sexuality and "normality" of choices we make for ourselves.

*Thank you to the Publisher for a free advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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So many feelings on this book, a debut by Raven Leilani. It was an emotionally hard read to pick up mid-2020, with the heart wrenching killing of black people all over America that showcases the deeply ingrained systemic racism in our country. Though it makes it a difficult read, it also makes it an important read. For those who may struggle to read the various nonfiction books about white supremacy and anti-racism, books like Luster from the minds of black authors and within the #OwnVoices movement can help you experience the emotional and draining baggage that a black person living in America experiences (others I would recommend are Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams or anything by Angie Thomas). I am mixed race, but I can pass as white. I experience microagressions and little forms of racism, but never to the same degree. Books like Luster might be hard to read because you didn't realize all the little things could wear you down so much -- the careful use of African American instead of Black, the casual stares as if you don't belong, or the treatment from cops who don't believe you could possibly live in this house. This might make it hard to read. It might make you want to give up or even proclaim that "this book isn't for me". I challenge you: lean into that uncomfortableness and learn. The book isn't perfect but that uncomfortableness, hopelessness, and loneliness you feel while reading is important. Don't let your brain shut it down and protect you from those feelings. Some people have to live through that everyday, you can survive the length of a novel.

Edie, the protagonist, is a 23-year-old who is struggling to make ends meet. She is depressed and uses sex almost as a means of getting to know people. She loses her publishing admin job because of several sexual exploits in the office, though we are not sure who actually reported her. She was one of the only black people in the office, other than an editorial assistant who was gunning for her job. She begins a relationship with Eric, a married archivist from New Jersey. Through some unfortunate life turns, Edie ends up connecting with Eric's wife Rebecca and living in their family's house, much to Eric's chagrin. Eric and Rebecca have an adopted daughter, Akila, who is black, and is struggling to fit in with her family, her school, and her majority white town. I had a hard time understanding Edie - we come from different backgrounds and she is much more comfortable with casual sex than I am - but as someone who was 23 recently, I understand her general being. She is lonely, she is lost, and she is just trying to figure it out. Anyone can read this book and find something that they recognize, either in themselves or someone they know.

Luster is by no means perfect. The basic plot is a little convoluted and unbelievable - a couple with a semi-open marriage end up taking in the mistress and bonding in a strange way. It definitely took more than half the book to build up the story enough to keep me unable to put it down each night. What Leilani really shines with is her characterizations and her ability to make us feel. You have to read this book and constantly check yourself, your privilege, and your judgements. You have to realize that the little bits of Edie's life, like the divide between her and her black colleague Aria and how they approach working in a white environment, are what is eating at Edie's soul. When she notices Eric and Rebecca's older neighbor staring at her all the time, she immediately feels like she doesn't belong. When those cops show up and force Edie and Akila to the ground outside of their house, you feel the helplessness and the desperation from Edie that she should have known better, that Akila should have known better. But it's not Edie and Akila that need to do better. It's the neighbor and the cops and even the parents. We need to undo years of systemic racism in this country. Read this book and empathize. Read more books like this and change your perspective and your attitude and then do something.

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This is an absolutely brilliant debut novel.

I read it straight after Brit Bennett’s The Mothers and while they are very different books I found a lot of similarities in their depictions of young, black, female protagonists and the theme of family and relationships.

The journey the book took me on wasn’t what I expected from the first few pages and I really enjoyed that. What I thought would be a novel about an affair instead reminded me of books like The New Me and My Year of Rest and Relaxation, both of which I loved, but with more tenderness and less pessimism.

I’m really excited to read whatever Raven Leilani does next!

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3.5 but rounding up. Really struggled with rating this book because--full disclaimer--I don't think it's necessarily my type of read, But. I liked the writing--save for the numerous run-on sentences and some looong paragraphs. Since this is Leilani's debut novel, i gave her the benefit of the doubt/bonus points,

Edie, a 23-year old self-destructive black woman, with an erratic admin career in publishing, who later fancies herself an artist, begins an affair with Eric, a decades older, married white man. Fast forward. She loses her job, ends up living in Eric's house and befriending his wife, Rebecca [also white] and their adopted black daughter, Akila. All are dysfunctional.

some of the phrases that struck me:
"...printers are sighing in self-generated heat..."
""...archived the look on his face..."
"...atrophy of my social muscles..."
"...pathological in the maintenance of his teeth..."

I learned a new word: tenebristic.

This book is just sad. There is racism [especially at the end which I found resonant of today's times], sexism, much loneliness and soul-searching.

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Sharp, but a tiny bit self-concious, this book is the right side of fragile and very enjoyable, in a weird, challenging way. Great characterisation, solid voice, worth a glance.

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This book is a tough one for me to review. There was a lot to like about it. It was smart and incisive and observant, particularly around racial themes. It was a quick and engaging read, although I wouldn’t exactly say I enjoyed it. There were two things that were major stumbling blocks for me. First, the writing was maybe just slightly overwrought, or maybe self-conscious, and while I know they were an intentional stylistic choice, the run-on sentences were just out of control. Second, it was very depressing, and in a way where I couldn’t exactly figure out the point. Terrible things kept happening to Edie and she kept making awful choices and that was hard enough to handle as a reader, but it was more that everything was presented through such a bleak lens. I couldn’t get into the characters’ heads and I think it was because everything they did was presented so flatly, almost to the point of satire. The choice of jobs for Rebecca, for example, just seemed like too much. The interactions between the characters were listless and confusing. I do think the author intended this, that it is some kind of commentary on modern millennial life, and I think she probably achieved what she was going for - it just wasn’t for me.

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My favorite thing about reading a debut novel is that you don’t really know what to expect from the author. Based on the plot of “Luster”, which on the surface is about a young black artist working at a low-level publishing job ends up in a relationship with an older white man who is in an open marriage, the book could go several ways. Luckily, “Luster” is a bold, blunt, darkly humorous, messy, and visceral novel. Edie’s observations on life as a Black woman just trying to figure it all out are so raw and watching this character navigate through various trials and tribulations was riveting. What author Raven Leilani was able to achieve in 227 pages is a feat and she is a writer I will be keeping tabs in the future.

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I had a tough time with this one. Raven Leilani is an excellent writer who creates a rich inner world for Edie and expertly tackles the feelings and discrepancies that occur between those with different class and racial backgrounds, including the power imbalance in a relationship between a middle-aged white man and a young black woman.

Reading this wasn't an enjoyable experience. This isn't because of the quality of the writing (as mentioned, Leilani's writing is sharp and skillful), but rather because it seems like Leilani constantly lobs terribly situations at Edie with no reprieve. Also, while the first sentence is excellent, I struggled to get into Edie's head at the beginning of the book.

Overall, there are no kernels of hope here. If and when you read this, make sure you're in a good place mentally and emotionally.

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Sometimes I have wished I could step inside the pages of a book and become for a time a character in the story. It would be fun and exciting to live in the world inhabited by these characters. However, in the book, Luster, I would never want to be a single one of these characters. They were all lost in the quagmire of their lives. Hurt, unsure, depressed, and morose might be apt adjectives for the four characters. Yet, while this was a sad, pessimistic story, it was one that quickly became fascinating as it was well written and enticed the reader to enter this dispirited world the characters found themselves in.

Edie, poor Edie, a young black woman, thinks of herself as a sexual object only seeming to derive pleasure from the act and never really seeing herself as an emerging gifted artist. She arrives at a point in her life where she is living with the married man, Erik, she has sex with, his wife, a medical examiner, and their adopted black daughter. They seem almost like mirages as they drift in and out of happenings, colorless, and cast into a sea of crestfallen lives. There seems to be no sense in lives that seem senseless, and yet Edie strives to be a number of things, an artist, a guide to Akila, and someone struggling to overcome sexual and racial mores in a time of fluctuating concepts and ideas.

This is not a happy book, one where everything comes up smelling like roses in the end. However, it is a book filled with questions and the knowledge of how to find your way in this world we are living in. What rules do we follow when there seems to be no rules?

Or is our life a painting or a photograph captured of us that makes us become real in the eyes of ourselves and the world?

Thank you to Raven Leilani, Farrar, Straus and Giroux , and NetGalley for a copy of this new author's book due out August 4, 2020.

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I have no idea how to describe this book but I will give it my neat shot. It was one of the most real things I’ve ever read. The voice and tone was incredible, told from Edith’s experience a young black woman with a uniquely (in some ways) unfortunate past who makes a lot of poor life choices and seems to drift through life giving all of herself to anyone willing to accept it. I felt so sad for her the whole time.

When she begins seeing a man in an open marriage, his wife, Rebecca, who is obviously less than pleased with the arrangement, is curious about Edith and circumstances eventually lead to Edith living with her not-quite-boyfriend, and his family. Things are weird and uncomfortable but like a train wreck, I could not look away. All of the characters were so well-written , so honestly portrayed in all of their flaws. This was such a fascinating view of the dichotomy between such different cultures and experiences and levels of privilege. Surreal and so real at the same time. This book is probably not for everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Thank you NetGalley, Raven Leilani, and publisher for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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A surprising, at-times magical novel that is sharply written, and oftentimes dizzying. Leilani is certainly a gifted writer who is tackling themes here that don't often make it into mainstream literature.

My one reservation is that the quick turns in action, that are perhaps a stylistic choice, felt oftentimes unnecessarily confusing. I felt similarly to the flashbacks, as if they were cobbled together from previously written short stories. There were moments I wish felt more connective and less abrupt to the whole of the novel - but I also see how this is a stylistic decision, and find much to admire still. The novel has regardless stayed with me since reading.

Will recommend.

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So I'm asking myself what I just read. Felt the book was all over the place.

I won this book thru Goodreads, but it never arrived.

Thanks to author,publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read this book. While I got the book for free,it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.

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A fantastic, sharp, funny, and wildly unique voice. A fast, great read and definitely one of the best debuts I've read this year.

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A dark and at times disturbing tale of a young artist struggling to make it on her home. A raw portrait of a woman who is caught in the web of a damaged archivist and his wife who seem to simultaneously destroy and uplift her. The book races to an unimaginable conclusion. This book grabs you on the first page and never lets go. A beautifully written and honest portrayal of a young woman trying to.find herself dispute herself. Riveting provocative surreal an unforgettable read

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This story follows Edie as she navigates her life and deals with the choices she has made to get her there. In that aspect, it seems like your run of the mill coming-of-age novel, but it is so much more than that. Edie chooses to begin a relationship with a man in an open marriage, complicated by the fact that the man's wife asks Edie to try to connect with her adopted daughter since they are both African American. Needless to say, this set up is not as picturesque as it seem. I can truly say I have never read another book like this one. The story is strange, which seems like a negative, but in this case it is just the best word I can choose to describe the rollercoaster that is Luster. A strange, whirlwind, wild ride through the life of Edie. Very enjoyable, I cannot wait to read more from Raven Leilani! Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for a copy of this book for an honest review.

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This is going to be a hard book to review. I'll start by saying that this was original, different, and unexpected.
Edie (Edith), a young black woman who lives in New York and works in publishing. She is broke and hardly makes enough for rent and other necessities. She doesn't shy away from new men and sex and some of her bad sex-decisions at the workplace cost her job. She then finds herself in the middle of a suburban white couple's open marriage. Edie is then propositioned by Eric's wife to be a confidant to their adopted Black teenage daughter, Akila, which is where things get a bit strange and uncomfortable, but also unputdownable. During Edie's stay as a guest in Eric and Rebecca's home (a bizarre living situation bred from retribution, necessity, and morbid curiosity) we get a window into Edie's childhood and her lived experience as a woman, a millennial, an African American and-- eventually-- an artist. This novel was described to me as a "fever dream" experience. Admittedly, I didn't really understand that until I read it. 5 damn stars. Fantastic, but really hard to review.

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The television show, Scandal, does this cinematographic bit I’ve come to adore. When filming, a dollied camera pans through beveled glass before cutting to a close-up shot. The chandelier trademark evokes a sensual ambiguity, introducing viewers to a scene that feels off-limits. It seems appropriate, reading a book titled Luster kindles a similar primal sensation.

Everything about Luster purrs of intoxication — from Edie, the lackadaisical artist with her intellectual and inky-tragic interior dialogue, to the unspoken tension of the delusory threesome(ish) relationship she keeps up with Eric & Rebecca. You, the reader are plunged into the story’s quicksand, drunkenly cringing to see how close you can get.

But an intoxicated narrative does not imply sloppy narrating.
Leilani’s puncturing prose feels crafted for a spoken-word stage. And the characters she’s molded follow suit — given an allowance to be viciously unprocessed about their desires and disappointments.

Luster is as strange as it is seductive.

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