Cover Image: Luster

Luster

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Due to a series of unfortunate events, Edie is down on her luck - she's lost her job, her home and has got involved in a weird romantic entanglement with an older married man. What follows is a strange but seemingly perfectly logical sequence of events that see her ending up living in the man's house at the invitation of his wife, as a companion for their adopted daughter.
Flitting between bouts of millennial ennui and seemingly hellbent on self-destruction, Edie is an often challenging heroine -, in some ways wise beyond her years, and in others remarkably immature in her actions. But this novel is about so much more than just her - it's a multi-layered story of race, family, acceptance, abuse, set against the punishing backdrop of New York.
This is an astonishing debut novel - a fresh style, an engaging and compelling narrative and a set of characters who stay with you long after the final page. Hugely recommended.
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This was so freaking brilliant. Eddie is so messy, she lets us in into her innermost thoughts. It's messy, wild, and chaotic. She's unlikable but you also cant' help but root for her. She's a millennial that is just trying to make it through on top of being a woman, Black, and an artist that is trying to find herself. The relationship between the women in this book felt so warm and heavy all at once. Highly recommend it.
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I’m not really sure what I just read, and I’m not sure what I was expecting going into this novel. 

All I know is that I didn’t connect with any of the characters. They were all strange and unemotional and frankly disgusting at times. I didn’t understand what the author’s message or theme was. There were a lot of terrible things that happened, but I didn’t understand the WHY behind it. 

Ultimately, I feel like I read a completely different book compared to everyone else who is raving about it. I wish I could say differently. 

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3447753420
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I'm not sure what to say about this book as saying I enjoyed it feels inappropriate. I can say I enjoyed the writing though and that the book felt like a character study, which is something that usually works for me.

What wasn't enjoyable was seeing Edie (the mc) accept terrible behavior from other people because it is what she thinks she deserves but the story was well told and this is how a lot of real people react so I can only respect this. She does however start to fight for herself eventually and I don't think I would have liked this book otherwise.

Edie gets involved with a married man and his wife knows about it but isn't happy about the situation (they also have a daughter which can complicate things). Their relationship evolves into something unexpected and I appreciated where it went.

Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Luster absolutely lived up to all of the hype that it was given! This was a great read and I read it quickly! Looking forward to reading more of Leilani's works!
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Raw and painful, sometimes hard to read and impossible to look away from.  This book is beautifully written, sharply witty, and deftly navigates topics like race, identity, and complicated relationships. I loved the connection between Edie and Akila, though I found Edie's relationship with Akila's parents somewhat more perplexing. An interesting concept and an impressive debut for sure.
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Urgh, this book was a masterpiece. 

The prose was decadent and beautiful, the characters perfectly imperfect and deep and rich. This book has all the makings of the next great American novel, a beautiful insight to the life of an African American woman. This book deals with race and femininity in a way which is raw and enthralling. It deals with all the complexities of being a young woman of colour in America: tokenism, police brutality, the act of making oneself small so a man might feel big, all the topics that in this era of BLM and Metoo are so Important. The book also deals with relationships, the main heroine starting up a relationship with a white, older married man. As the book progresses you peel back the layers of the characters, all messed up in their own way. The characters are so multi dimensional and in parts, likeable and equally unlikeable. Truly, this is a fantastic read. 

Honestly this is the best book I have read in years, I can tell it will be one that sticks with me forever.
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This book is a whole damn meal in every sentence. Raven Leilani is a wizard with the written word. This is one of those books where you need to digest every word slowly, patiently, and with great satisfaction. She writes terribly flawed characters beautifully, full of complications and contradictions.
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Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! No spoilers. Beyond amazing I enjoyed this book so very much. The characters and storyline were fantastic. The ending I did not see coming  Could not put down nor did I want to. Truly Amazing and appreciated the whole story. This is going to be a must read for many many readers. Maybe even a book club pick.
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Wow, this book! I read it so fast, because I didn’t want to stop! Edie is a a Black woman in her early 20s, living in New York, working a job in publishing that barely pays her enough to live, saddled by student loan debt, and basically drifting through life. She has an affair with a married man, Eric, who has an open marriage, and ends up living with his family in New Jersey when she loses her apartment. This is definitely a crazy set up, and I found the relationships between the wife, Rebecca, and Edie, and their adopted daughter, Akila, and Edie, much more compelling than Eric and Edie. In fact, Eric was the least interesting person in that house by far! 
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I loved the author’s almost stream of consciousness writing style, it’s quite an addictive read, and it makes me very happy that my 20s are over 🤣  There are themes of race, class, sex, loneliness and a feeling of general ennui throughout.
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I guess it's natural to be slightly underwhelmed by a book that's gotten as much hype as Luster has.  And it absolutely does deserve the hype, in a lot of ways.  Raven Leilani's voice and writing style are spectacular, and so is her characterization of protagonist Edie.  This is very much a "disaster women" book (i.e., a subgenre of literary fiction about 20-something year-old women having a lot of casual sex and making terrible life decisions) but it's also its own thing, refreshing both in voice and structure. 

My main issue with this book isn't even something it did wrong, per se - but about 40% through the book it took a turn that I didn't want it to take, and we ended up spending the rest of the book in a situation that I found much less interesting than the one that had been presented to us at the beginning.  I didn't find Rebecca to be a particularly convincing figure and her dynamic with Edie really failed to engage or move me.  Even less interesting to me was Eric, Edie's love interest, an older, married, white man (Edie is a Black woman, and much younger than Eric - it's a dynamic that facilitates moments of sharp insight on Leilani's part but Eric himself is something of a wet blanket).  It's Edie herself that holds this novel together (she's a realistic, sympathetic, compelling figure); it's the circumstances she finds herself in that I felt didn't ultimately live up to their narrative potential.

I initially gave this 4 stars but I waited a few weeks to write this review and in that time this book has sort of faded in my estimation and I haven't really thought about it since putting it down, so that's never an amazing sign.  I think this is a promising debut in a lot of ways and Raven Leilani is absolutely an author I'll be keeping an eye on, but this didn't quite do what I wanted it to do for me.
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Luster falls into a category people have taken to calling "millennial fiction." Think Sally Rooney or Naoise Dolan. But Luster also dovetails with another nebulous category that often overlaps with millennial fiction, which is the Messy Woman genre (think Halle Butler's The New Me, The Pisces, etc). Neither of these are official genre categorizations, but there's definitely been a trend in these books about young, usually white, millennial women who just can't seem to get their lives together.

Immediately, Luster is distinguished by virtue of its Black lead; her identity immediately lends a different tone to the narrative. I appreciated the heft this lent the narrative, particularly as Edie's identity as a Black woman is inextricably tied to the plot of the novel, which is: after losing her job, Edie temporarily moves in with the married older white man she has been casually dating, Eric, only he is in an open marriage and lives with his very weird wife and his adopted Black daughter, Akila.

I tend to have very little patience with the Messy Woman genre, mostly because I cannot relate to it on any level whatsoever, but also because I find it frustrating to follow a character who constantly makes really bad decisions and never learns from their mistakes. So I was already starting Luster at somewhat of a disadvantage, predisposed to dislike it. It didn't help that it falls into the camp of literary fiction that features very weird characters making incredibly bizarre decisions with no explanation whatsoever. Like, Rebecca, Eric's wife? I have no idea what was going on there. She seemed to exist solely as a plot device, because I have no clue what was going on through her head or why she did the very strange things she did. I understand that part of the problem is that we are seeing everything through Edie's very limited and very biased perspective, but this didn't make me any more inclined to be sympathetic to the very weird goings-on in this book.

Akila was the one bright spot. She is Eric and Rebecca's adopted pre-teen daughter, being raised in a white neighborhood by clueless white parents. She is clever and quick, loves anime and video games, is super into cosplay, and is just an all-around geek doing her best to find some stability in her life. With Edie, she has someone in her corner standing up for her and teaching her how to do her hair. Their relationship was incredibly sweet, and Akila is the best character in the whole damn book.

Besides the bizarre actions being taken by Eric, Rebecca, and Edie, I was also annoyed by the languid, formless plot. I know that tends to be a staple of this sort of fiction, but I found it extra exasperating here, when we were spending so many scenes on Edie just being...introspective or doing some mundane task. I will say, the writing is pretty good (though it definitely got carried away with its own grandeur sometimes) and very, very clever; there were so many sentences were I had to pause and re-read because I was so enamored of the way the author chose to frame a particular idea. The overall tone of the narrative is very dry and sardonic, which I appreciated.

I think, if I were ever going to be converted to truly like the Messy Woman genre, it would have been with this book, but overall my reading experience was lackluster and somewhat unpleasant. I found this to be, if not depressing, then oddly stagnant, and yes, I know that's the point, but...I don't like that. So while I can totally see why some people would love this, it's really just not for me.
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I can totally understand why people are raving about this book. It's provocative, dark, unflinching, gritty, and very much of the times. But something about the writing style just didn't jive with me, and it made it very difficult to get fully immersed into the story. Thankfully, this one doesn't need a rave from me as it's made such an impact already. I'd be interested to see the plot of Leilani's next book!
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Luster is part of a trend of stories about young women making terrible decisions, clearly in need of therapy and struggling to belong in a society that she feels disconnected to. It's a subgenre I really enjoy reading, and I'm always looking for a book that will give me the chaotic experience of reading The Pisces, My Year of Rest and Relaxation or Supper Club. I enjoy the dry humor and the sharp critique of society that comes from such books, and with Luster you definitely get that. Still, I had a somewhat mixed experience with it, in which I really adored some parts, how insightful and pointed the writing was, how Edie goes through the world as a complicated woman and the stakes are that much higher because she's Black; but I spent most of the book feeling quite tired by the particular way she made her choices and the constant humiliation she went through and did not fight back at all. This was quite exhausting to read, just waiting for the next humiliation that for sure would come while she put up no defense for herself. Her justifications on why she continued her relationship with the dead fish of a man who had zero spine and zero personality. I felt no connection between them at all, and while Edie herself explains that she knows she's with him just to be with someone, I still did not feel that this justification was entirely understandable to me. Edie was clearly a smart woman, and still we never really get to see that shine. Her relationship with every single person in this book involves being humiliated in some way, even by Akila, the Black child of the white couple she's messily entangled with. 

The plot did not seem to go anywhere and I don't think Edie left this story much different - I would have liked to see her self-confidence improve, to see her fight for herself and what she wants, to perhaps see more of how she feels now that her relationships with every member of the family are over. It's a big shift in her life and I hoped for more of an emotional punch there.

I'm sorry I sound so negative about this book, but I truly expected to love it! I did enjoy the writing most of the time (it's sharp and a bit flowery) and the observations Edie makes on sexuality, on racism at work, about being a token, and how the stakes are higher for her as a Black woman, how Akila is from a rich, white family and suffers from the racism her parents don't even see. It's an exploration of the life of a messy Black woman who makes questionable choices but is brilliant and so full of potential as an artist. I enjoyed this book but expected a bit more out of it!
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First impression
Luster is not the definitive Black millennial novel. There is no such thing. But it is a brilliantly observed and brazen book that challenges the racial and sexual politics of this moment. It is the messy bold story of a messy, bold and complicated 23 year old editorial assistant/struggling artist who gets involved with an older married man in a supposedly open marriage. Their entanglement, however, is just about the antithesis of ethical non-monogamy. Black women aren’t magic. We are human. And so is Edie. The subject matter is frequently difficult, and things don't end neatly, but Raven Leilani's prose is gorgeous even when she's plumbing the ugly depths of what two or three people do to each other. It is definitely worth your time and thought.
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An open marriage of  an archivist and an autopsist leads a young black woman into an uncomfortable situation between the two of them and their child.
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This book was unique, but sometimes in a way that was distracting. It was wordy at times. It seems that the author wanted to include shock value, but again, sometimes it was more distracting than anything. The story was intriguing, but the delivery was not what it could have been.
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Luster is *technically* a coming-of-age story about young Edie getting tangled in an open marriage. I say technically because Luster is a book whose one-line synopsis doesn’t do it justice. Its sharp, beautiful, vivid, often hilarious prose will knock you speechless. This is a brilliant debut novel you don’t want to miss.
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It took me entirely too long to read this ARC that I ended buying a final copy. 

'Luster' felt like an inside joke between the writer and her character. I am a millennial, and I love chaos, I love picking up and changing jobs, I love dating men I am not supposed to, but I couldn't connect with Edie. This book went from overwhelming in an excellent way to underwhelming in 240 pages. Raven Lelani gives you honesty. It often reminded me of Junot Diaz or even Samantha Irby. The prose was beautiful, but it wasn't much of a story. 

I would still pick up a Raven Leilani book because she can WRITE, ok? But 'Luster' just wasn't it, so I gave it two stars.
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An impressive debut. The novel yokes what might seem a predictable sexual scenario to something larger and more contemporary, using the device of a narrator whose scathing perceptions and unpredictable actions keep the reader on her toes. Cinematic evocation of New York and the suburbs add context to a memorable, unusual and surprisingly affecting piece of work.
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