Cover Image: Luster


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Member Reviews

The author of this debut novel has a sharp and well-formed voice that is a pleasure to read and is certainly one to watch in the future. However, I found myself bogged down in this book by the relentless depressive voice -- even as she's living through a pretty unlikely series of events, Edie's outlook doesn't transform much. She's funny and a sharp observer but lives at a remove from herself and everyone else until an occurrence near the end of the book that inspires her to make more art and finally lightens up the tone; my experience was that it was a bit of a slog to get to that point, and then I appreciated the end of the book. 
Thanks NetGalley for the e-ARC.
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I am in awe. This debut novel is complex, hilarious, beautiful, and difficult, while being gorgeously written with every sentence. It’s hard for me to review this book as I feel anything I say or adjectives I apply won’t do it justice, but overall, I am simply so glad I read it. Raven Leilani an excellent writer (and artist!), crafting a wholly original and moving story about a young black woman discovering herself amidst complicated circumstances (to put it simply). The narrator, Edie, is one of my favorite characters in recent memory. This book joins Real Life by Brandon Taylor as one of my favorite reads of the year (and they are both debuts!). I hope you all read this incredible novel upon release in August.
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Leilani’s "Luster" is a hypnotic and cathartic debut novel, its predominant theme being the pursuit of passion and purpose in an era inured to uncertainty.
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This book was exactly what I needed. The voice is completely immersive. Fresh, honest, ugly, and beautiful. In the end, I wondered if more could've happened plot-wise, but then i realized, the voice is so strong and the style is so brutal and unique, it didn't have to rely as much on plot twists as other books do. What an incredible first novel. Just incredible. My jaw was dropping. Smart, heavy-hitting, and just real.
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A great story well written and very original and unique. Would definitely recommend and read more from this author
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Sharp and well written, this debut showcases a talented writer.  Edie's story is a familiar one brought up to date with the mores of today.  I have to say, however, that I'm not the right audience for this book and was unable to generate much sympathy for the character.
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This book was just an okay read for me. 

The main character and her actions were just ridiculous and she didn't seem to be smart at all based on her actions.

I don't think I would recommend this book.
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Right off the bat, for all intents and purposes, Luster is a more eloquent version of Candice Carty-Williams’ Queenie. Both feature young Black women with complicated families, who both happen to work in publishing and are dangerously close to getting fired and continually enter risque sexual relationships because they’re struggling with a sense of self. Where these novels differ is in the execution and presentation of their lead. 

Queenie was one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve ever had reading a book because I could not wrap my head around her stupidity. This isn’t to say I didn’t like the book - seeing a Black woman being portrayed as an emotionally unstable anxious wreck is actually quite revolutionary given the stereotype of “the strong Black Woman” - but god if Queenie didn’t work on my nerves. 

In the case of Luster, we have a protagonist who we’re told has gone through a series of bad hookups but we don’t see it. It’s easier not to judge Edie for sleeping with her entire office because we never see it play out, we don’t know how she came to make those decisions, we don’t know what the immediate aftermath was - all we know is that these encounters happen and that she has to deal with the consequences. 

I’d even argue that the information is presented in such a way that even though you know and understand why this thing happens to her, you’re still sympathetic and worried about where she’s able to go from there. 

Now, without leaning too heavily into spoilers about the open marriage, I will say that while I was confused, I eventually came to accept that this was a necessary decision on Edie’s end. I can’t say at what point the arrangement becomes more functional than sexual, but there is an undercurrent of eroticism for the entirety of the novel that undoubtedly plays a part in why Edie does what she does. 

She wants to have sex. She wants to make art. She wants to connect to other Black women and girls around her but also needs to survive. 

In a novel that could’ve easily - and started out - heavily fetishizating the desires of a young Black woman, there is actually a lot of melancholy and solace in the uncertainty of living through your early twenties and wanting to be more than you currently are.

I know that I compared this book to Queenie - and make no mistake - Luster is basically in conversation with that novel from beginning to end HOWEVER, having had time to sit with this book and think on it, this is really a modern day Giovanni’s Room. 

Luster is definitely a recommendation from me with  ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ out of five.
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Sadly this book did nothing for me. I committed to reading the book for an honest review. I did indeed finish it. It just feels flat and not one I cared for anyone. Humor was a filler and tried far too hard to be bigger than it was.
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Luster is a must read thriller! Wish it was way closer to publication date so I could give more in depth details. 
Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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I received an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review 

I really wanted to like this one- the themes are great but the execution did not come together. There are much better books exploring these concerns out there. 2.5 rounded up
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Dnf based on the flow and other reviews. The description pulled me in and it failed to meet expectations.
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Luster follows  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. 

I LOVED the book. It is a joy to find a book that pays such attention to crafting characters. You can predict how the book is going to end. But I would still recommend it for the way it makes you feel. It is morose, sad, witty in a dark way and the kind that you do not want to leave. I was heavily invested in the characters. I was keen to follow the three of them to see how it is all going to end. The white couple have adopted a black child and the novel also explores how the marriage and the parenthood in general plays out for the child.

Raven Leilani surprises us with twists, unpredictability in her characters, hurried pacing at times and sudden shifts. Each character is mysterious in its own way. Is the husband happy in the marriage? The wife, with a job that deals with cadavers, calls it a form of art. Edie, an artist herself, tries to find the muse to paint.

A brill debut. I will be thinking of this for a long time
Rating: 4.5/5
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I have to admit, I noped myself out of Luster just over the halfway mark.  There was something about the style of writing that just felt forced.  This is the only book in which I've felt that the language was too wordy, while at the same time, lacking content.  It seems a contradiction in terms, but it's the best description I can come up with for the experience of reading this book.  There were very long sentences that held very little of meaning, and short, punctuated sentences that ineffectively tried to say too much, or said nothing at all. The attempts at description felt flat and forced.  Add to this the fact that the book seemed just a series of humiliations with nothing to temper it, it made Luster a really tough, and unrewarding read.
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Raven Leilani has to be one of those most charming author names I've ever encountered, but I have to say up front that I wasn't charmed by this novel. It started out well enough, but went downhill for me rather quickly.

Part of my problem with it was the disconnect between what the back-cover blurb says and where the novel actually went. I know that unless they self-publish, authors tend to have little input into the blurb and cover design, but to have a blurb promise me I'll see "a young black woman fall into art" and then read a significant portion of the story and have this woman, Edie, give only the most cursory attention to art was a real disappointment to me.

The real problem though, was that Edie didn't present as an artist to me. She had no eye for color or light, or for nature, people, or architecture - or at least if she did, none of that ever made it into her first person voice, which is yet another reason why first person is almost always the wrong choice for a novel. This story never gave even a hint about her artistic leanings or interests; yes, there were cursory mentions, but it was far too busily focusing on her social commentary which was not as amusing as the blurb-writer liked to pretend it was, and on her obsession with this guy she met online. From what I read, I remained unconvinced that she had any real interest in art because it took a very distant back seat. I didn't believe an artist would have the take on life that Edie did.

So for me, reading those first few chapters, the story wasn't about art at all. It was about a rather sordid sexual obsession, and while the blurb did suggest the sexual component of the story, it didn't hint that that would be all she wrote - so to speak! I mean Edie was literally obsessing over having sex with this guy she 'met' on line and she was doing that the whole time. It failed the Bechdel-Wallace test dismally, and this wasn't even two women talking! It was tedious to read after a short while, and it was a problem because I wasn't given any reason whatsoever as to why Edie became so obsessed with this guy. It didn't feel real to me because the reader wasn't offered anything to support this kind of intensity. If anything, it felt stalker-ish and dangerous, which is, I assume, the very opposite of what the author was intending, if the blurb is to be believed. But maybe it isn't.

Like I said, I didn't read all of this and things may have changed later in the story, bringing it more into conformance with what the blurb writer says is going on, but if that's the case, then there really needed to be more offered up front to render some sort of a reliable promise of a better future. I got nothing, and there are two solid reasons why I quit when I did.

The first, but by no means the most important reason was the severe let-down when a crucial point in the story was reached: the first encounter between Edie, the young black woman who tells this story, and the wife of the man with whom she is having an affair - of sorts. Right when that's about to open wide, the story comes to a screeching halt while we're dragged back over Edie's sexual history! What?!

I'm in no way a fan of flashbacks for this very reason, but this was one of the most irritating I've ever encountered and I had zero interest in her sexual history. I skipped that section completely, but once I finally got back to the wife versus the mistress part, it was a total let-down. Instead of something engaging: a fight, a tearful breakdown, an intelligent grown-up discussion, an unleash of female passion, something interesting and original happening, the story lost its way and meandered into a party. Of all things. I felt seriously let down, and worse than that, the events of this particular party made me serious doubt the main character's intelligence and humanity. That's never a good thing.

What happened immediately after that was worse though. The guy of her obsession drives Edie home. He's angry with her and he hits her and she takes it and almost literally begs for me. That's when I called 'Check please! I'm done here!'. I'm not about to read that. I mean that was bad enough, but let's consider this relationship overall, given the month that I read this in was black history month! I was torn between wondering if his violence was worse, or if his treatment of this young woman in general was worse, or if her mute acceptance of all this was worse.

This is a very one-sided affair wherein the guy gets everything he wants and Edie gets next-to-nothing, putting her into a very needy and subservient position. I was wondering, is this really a story that you'd really want to promote during black history month? A white guy effectively enslaving a young black woman? He makes all the rules; she whimpers and conforms? She effectively becomes a maid to this white privileged family where the guy is ruler and the women are his subjects? Maybe it's a story some people want to read, but not me. Maybe it changed later, but I'd already lost patience with it along with any interest in reading any more.

I can't commend this at all based on what I could manage to read of it. I felt cheated by the book description and even more cheated by the story itself. I lost interest, but worse, I lost faith in it.  There was no artistry here - unless we were expected to accept the tortured without the artist.
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I feel like Luster is another installment in a series of books that I'm gonna call Dysfunctional Women Being Dysfunctional—which theoretically, I'm all for, but in actuality I've been disappointed by more often than not, this novel included.

Luster is Leilani's debut book, and there are definitely glimmers of sharp, wry writing to be found here. One of my favourites: "In the time we have been talking, my imagination has run wild. Based on his liberal use of the semicolon, I just assumed this date would go well." (lol)

That being said, I can't really say that I enjoyed this novel.

This is a novel that is immensely bogged down by its own moroseness. The main character, Edie, undergoes humiliation after humiliation with no break and nothing even close to resembling happy to temper that humiliation. I think the novel articulates its own spirit when Edie thinks,
"...the debris around the drain not enough to deter me from lying down in the tub and being dramatic, humiliation being such that it sometimes requires a private performance, which I give myself, and emerge from the shower in the next stage of hurt feelings."

And that's exactly it: reading this novel feels like reading a performance of humiliation ("performance" in the sense that it's a presentation of humiliation, not in the sense that that humiliation is performative or "fake," somehow). And the writing compounds this performance to the novel's detriment. Leilani's writing is simultaneously too verbose and too clipped, both over- and underwritten: at times she elaborates on moments that don't need to be elaborated on, and at others she breezes through monumental emotional moments as if they were nothing. It felt like the novel was working at cross-purposes from what I wanted.

Of course, what all of this means is, this book was written in a style that wasn't to my taste. And I think that there's definitely people for whom this book's style will work. If you liked Ottessa Moshfegh's My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Miranda Popkey's Topics of Conversation, or Naoise Dolan's upcoming Exciting Times, you'll like Luster. I will also point out the fact that Luster is an ownvoices novel told from the perspective of a black woman, whereas all those books I just mentioned are from white women's perspectives.
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This review is based on an ARC of Luster which I received courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). 

3.25 Stars? I want to rate it higher but in hindsight Luster wasn't something that changed or moved me much. Raven Leilani is undoubtedly a great writer with an enchanting, lyrical approach to prose. This flow-of-conscious style articulates perfectly Edith's slice-of-life story, and emphasizes the feeling of being lost in your twenties. Whether the reader can relate personally to Edith or not, the author sets up a kinship in her choice of prose, an intimacy that cannot be shaken or denied. 

I loved the grimy, melancholy, unassuming mood of this story. I loved that the author relied more on descriptors that dialogues to tell the story. I love that I never once questioned the author's merits--whether she was trying too hard or being too fancy with the prose. Luster is just right. 

So, although I could not relate to the character personally, Leilani breeds empathy with her words and makes Luster enjoyable and touching, a unique tale with just the right touches laced throughout to make it haunting.
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I stayed up all night to read this scintillating novel.  A young black female artist is lured into an illicit affair that begins online.  The characters were completely relevant and engaging.  A must read of 2020!
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When it is snowy and cold outside, superspeed readers like me can read 250+ pages/hour, so yes, I have read the book … and many more today. LOL

I requested and received a temporary digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from #NetGalley, the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review.  

From the publisher, as I do not repeat the contents or story of books in reviews, I let them do it as they do it better than I do 😸.

Sharp, comic, disruptive, tender, Raven Leilani's debut novel, Luster, sees a young black woman fall into art and someone else's open marriage

Edie is stumbling her way through her twenties—sharing a subpar apartment in Bushwick, clocking in and out of her admin job, making a series of inappropriate sexual choices. She's also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. And then she meets Eric, a digital archivist with a family in New Jersey, including an autopsist wife who has agreed to an open marriage—with rules.

As if navigating the constantly shifting landscapes of contemporary sexual manners and racial politics weren't hard enough, Edie finds herself unemployed and falling into Eric's family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.

Razor-sharp, darkly comic, sexually charged, socially disruptive, Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make her sense of her life in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way.

Okay, first off ... autopsist.  I, of course, read it as auto-psist and had to look it up ... An autopsist (also known as a Forensic Pathologist) is the person who does the autopsy in which they assess and examine 1. dead bodies to determine the cause of death 2. Living bodies to assess the individual (usually in assault or rape cases.)  
Why not use the word PATHOLOGIST and confuse fewer people reading the book blurb?

This is an interesting and enjoyable first novel from an author we are sure to read more from: the characters are fascinating and the story is laugh-out-loud funny at times, perhaps inadvertently.  It is a messy situation being written about, but life is messy and this is an enjoyable read for people to discover a new author through. I hate the cover, though ... it makes no sense and it is not one I could see myself or out patrons picking up via sheer curiosity

The book comes out in August, so take this book to the beach with a tonne of SPF1000 sunscreen as you will lose track of time and end up fried to a crisp as a result.  (or better yet, read it on the porch!) This is a beach read to me ... not that there is anything wrong with that. 

As always, I try to find a reason to not rate with stars as I love emojis (outside of their incessant use by "🙏-ed Social Influencer Millennials/#BachelorNation survivors/Tik-Tok and YouTube  Millionaires/etc. " on Instagram and Twitter... Get a real job, people!) so let's give it 3.5 rounded up to  🏖️ 🏖️🏖️ 🏖️
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Luster is a striking novel about the myriad ways it is possible to screw up in your twenties and still survive. All of the four main characters are lost in different ways, and end up coexisting in a weird not-quite equilibrium. Edie, the main character is 23. Edie is quite promiscuous and self-destructive. She is holding a great deal of vulnerability about her lack of relational stability.  When she starts an affair with Eric, Edie ends up entangled with Eric's wife and adopted daughter. They become a sort of messed-up temporary family. You know it will end in tears but you cannot look away. Four stars.
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