Cover Image: Luster

Luster

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Member Reviews

A stunningly good debut novel from Leilani. It perfectly encapsulates how weird and awkward relationships can get, albeit within the context of an open marriage. Edie seems to make one terrible decision after another, but somehow it works. Rather than getting annoyed with her I wanted her to keep going on her trajectory, because it was sort of working, this fiery dismantling of everything a life in your twenties should be. Edie is hilariously and searingly insightful, the observations she makes about love, sex, race, jobs, apartments, are spot on. I loved this! I can't wait for Leilani's next book.
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This was a hard book for me to read, feel like i didn't get the point for most of the book, like why was she lusting after this man, and reading about three detached people in a detached style, while there were moments that were interesting and towards the end i started caring about her, it was a struggle for me to read the book.  I like to be more emotionally involved with the characters
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* I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review * 

WOW. Let's start there, shall we? 

I have seen a lot of buzz about this book on Goodreads. Based on the tiny blurb on Goodreads, it didn't immediately register as a title that sounded like it would be my usual kind of read (blurbs, man, they can be deceptive.) 

2 lessons reading Luster taught me: 

1. Was I ever wrong 
2. Don't let a vague blurb dissuade you from picking up a great read

I subscribe to Electric Lit, and about 2 weeks ago they published an excerpt from Chapter 2. I figured, "What the hell, I've got 10 minutes, let me see why this book is everywhere." So lesson 2 is -- read things you subscribe to. And suspend what you think your own expectations are. I was thrilled and surprised that the publisher provided a review copy, though I am 100% going to buy a copy as well and probably gift it, because it's that good. 


A few more things to note: I think anyone reading this whose 20s are behind them will agree, I'm glad my 20's are over. And as someone on the more Rebecca spectrum of identity, I also want to say: it sounds like being in your 20s right now is so much more difficult than it was before -- and for that, I have nothing but respect for Millenials and Gen Z. Your 20s are a terrible, wonderful confusing time full of big heartbreaks and disappointments and all the things you learn by fire. 

I'm glad women in their 20s, and especially women of color in their 20s (or about to enter their 20s) have this book. Edie is perfectly imperfect, a work-in-progress, doing her best to build something better for herself in a world that is set up to knock her down at every turn. 

Edie is honest (painfully so at times, but also hilariously so). She is funny and petty in equal amounts, she is strong and vulnerable in the same distribution. There are passages that read like a text message from your most sarcastic/smart friend, and I mean that in the best possible way. Edie feels real, in all her glorious "figuring it out-ness". 

Luster never has a moment where the suspension of disbelief slips and you remember that this is a story, there's an author behind the curtain pulling all the strings. Every character feels very distinct, very authentic, and has their own arc that reveals some truths and keeps other truths hidden -- which is exactly how things like that play out in real life. There wasn't a neat bow wrapping things up, but the narrative arc felt complete. 

Her voice, her sense of humor, her emotional calluses and soft places are all compulsively readable. I read this book in 36 hours and when it was over, I both wished there were more to read and also admired the author for their restraint, for leaving the reader with that sense of wanting -- which is perfect, because that's what Edie herself is left with. 

The book description makes a bigger deal of the sex than it feels when you're reading it. Yes, there's sex, a fair amount of it, and some of the descriptions are pretty raw and unfiltered. But for a book whose central conceit is being wrapped up in someone else's open marriage -- in a lot of ways, the sex (with Eric, and everyone else) is kind of an afterthought, which I believe is intentional. 

Women in their 20s right now have an overwhelming amount of contradictions they're expected to reconcile, and for women of color this overwhelming amount of contradictions is doubled, tripled, quadrupled. The author, through Edie and her experiences and observations, makes no bones about this. That's a good thing for readers of any age or identity, because no matter where you fall on that spectrum, there's something solid you can take away from this book and integrate with how you move through the world and engage with the people in it. 

I love Edie because she hasn't got it all figured out yet, and it's okay. I'm confident that she will, and more than anything, I want her to. That's a message that all women in their 20s should hear, and for some readers, this may be one of the first times they ever hear that message from the main character in a book. 

Final note: This is Raven Leilani's DEBUT book. If she's this good out of the gate -- I can't wait to see what the future holds for her body of work.
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Just wow! This was magical. Such a unique voice and powerful writing.  Incredible character development. Again, wow!!
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In the midst of a reading slump, Luster will pull you from your slump and send sparks back into your reading life. With gorgeous prose, unexpected plot development, and more - Raven Leilani's debut will leave you wishing for more, more, more.

Edie is a twenty-something who works a desk job, and wishes she didn't. Sure, it pays the bills - but art? That's what really stirs her soul. The only problem is, she hasn't quite figured out how to pave her own way. Amidst the normal stumbles of a twenty-something life, Edie meets Eric. Eric is married, has a house in New Jersey - and a meticulous autopsist wife. When Edie finds herself unemployed and out of luck, it's Eric's wife who brings her even further into the fold. 

Funny, excellently paced, and razor sharp, Leilani writes about the struggles of figuring out who you are with a deft, and skilled hand.
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Luster is the kind of book best consumed in one sitting or a few long ones. I was so mad every time I had to put it down. It' the story of Edie, who is young, directionless and black. This book manages to be so specific and universal at once. There are so many passages I highlighted because they're just so candid. Edie feels like a living breathing person and I can't wait to read Raven Leilani's next book.
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I did not like this book. I thought the premise was interesting, but the story fell flat for me. The writing was a little hard to follow with extremely long paragraphs and lots of run-on thoughts. It was kind of depressing overall.
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Thank you so much to Netgalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book! 

Unfortunately this was not the book for me. I put it down half-way through and could not finish it. I didn’t care much for the writing style and I absolutely hated the main character. She is very unlikeable and makes many questionable decisions.  There were also a few shock factor moments where I had to pause and go “what did I just read?”  The plot was very strange and I just didn’t care for it.
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It is no secret that I adore books with a difficult female main character, so it’s no surprise that I was beyond excited to get to this book – and I adored (seriously adored) the first thirty percent: Edie is wonderfully flawed and interesting and her narration is pitch-perfect. I adored the mix between long run-on sentences and shorter, punchier ones. I was certain this would be my favourite book of the year. I am not quite sure what happened then but by the end I was not quite as enamored and ultimately I was glad to be done with it. Maybe it was the endless parade of humiliations (I get a very bad case of secondhand embarrassment that makes reading something like this very difficult), maybe it was the way in which the narrative became unfocussed – but even if I didn’t love it the whole way through; what an impressive debut. As my thoughts are all over the place, so will be my review, but please bear with me as I am trying to figure out my exact feelings (and rating).

The biggest draw of a book like this is always the main character and Edie fits wonderfully in the canon of what Rachel has called “disaster women” – or rather, she expands on it. Because as a Black woman, her decisions have more far reaching consequences, more dangerous implications. And for this alone, I loved this book. I loved how Edie is unflinchingly aware of what being a Black woman in the middle of a difficult personal time entails. Unflinchingly aware is a good way to describe Edie in general; she is always aware of what her decisions might mean and then she does stupid things anyways – I appreciated that facet of her personality.

Ultimately, this is a book about loneliness; unbearable, all-encompassing loneliness is what defines all four of the book’s main characters, but most of all Edie who has lost her (difficult) parents young and does not know what she wants out of her life. Her loneliness is most obvious when she chooses to remain in situations that are humiliating beyond measure just to avoid being alone. But the married couple she gets entangled with is also lonely, even in their coupledom, and their adopted daughter seems to have accepted her own loneliness in a way that made my heart hurt.

Overall, an incredibly impressive debut that thankfully is getting the accolades it deserves. I will for sure be reading whatever Raven Leilani publishes next because this mix of incredible prose and interesting characters is my literary fiction catnip.

Content warnings: violent sex, vomit, miscarriage, asphyxiation, loss of a loved one (backstory), racism, police brutality, cheating
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Goodreads review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3323736003

WILD. This shit was wiiiild. I really liked this book. It's not a "pretty" story. It's laugh out loud hysterical, devastating, infuriating. The book perfectly captures the soullessness of just trying to get by in late stage capitalism in the US. After a certain point, work, love, money, it all feels meaningless. I can understand why folks are calling this a "great American millennial novel." It was uncomfortably relatable and embarrassing for me to read and see parts of my life reflected.

If you're looking for a book that encapsulates the millennial experience (at least for many), or specifically the Black millennial experience, Leilani NAILS it. I love Edie. She is messy and complicated and really, really trying... Her relationship with Akila warmed my damn heart (when they play video games together and go to ComicCon together... weeping).

The writing has a frenetic energy to it. It reads how my thoughts feel in my head when I'm having an intense ADHD moment. Or when I'm writing and I don't have the time or energy for punctuation because I'm trying to keep track of how quickly my thoughts are racing. I love Leilani's writing style. Real, ugly, goofy, raw, honest. Her sentences are FULL of things to analyze and pick apart, if you're in to that kind of thing. And it's completely unique.

The novel illustrates how and why being alive right now can feel crushing. It sounds dramatic, but whew, the vibe of this book is SO RELATABLE. How pointless things can feel. Edie is an artist, wants to find real human connection, belonging, wants to impact others. But there's soaring rent costs. Student loans. Daily microaggressions, racism, sexism. Navigating the joys of insurance companies and coverage. Everyday bull shit. Bull shit jobs, the gig economy, low pay. All of these barriers to stability, to joy, to meaning and belonging. It's the bread and butter of life as a millennial, as a young Black woman, for Edie. People are just trying to survive and have enough cash leftover to MAYBE have *some* amount of fun. Enough cash leftover to buy a chance encounter with beauty, laughter, maybe satisfaction, however fleeting. Again, on a VERY occasional basis. That's the best we feel we can expect.

What a killer first novel. Can't wait to read more from Raven Leilani.

Thanks to #NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for giving me a copy of this book to review in exchange for an honest review.
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In Raven Leilani’s expertly crafted début, we follow 23-year-old Edie as she navigates the rocky terrain of her own coming-of-age. The setting of Luster is juxtaposed against the backdrop of the atmospheric rapidness of New York City and the quiet suburbs of New Jersey. Through the character of Edie, we are taken on a ride through a dizzying array of relationships whether it be with past suitors, in open marriages, as a mentor to a teenage girl, or with the self.

Fresh off the heels of graduating from NYU’S MFA program, Raven Leilani is already making a splash within the literary community. The newly minted New York Times bestselling author, proves an artfully agile writer, expertly weaving us through passages with both verbose and terse language, intertwining the two disparities with the expertise rarely seen in a début. In particular, the first time Edie and Eric have sex, in which Leilani delivers a master class of a scene, one which will knock you off your feet, and one writer Kaitlyn Greenidge describes as “…a miracle of a run-on sentence that expertly shifts from awkward bemusement to sincerity to disgust, much like many first times.”

Again, contrarieties are littered throughout the text. There’s Edie and Eric— he’s a white man; she, a Black woman. Akila, younger. Edie, older. Rebecca, employed. Edie, unemployed. Then there is Aria and Edie. At the publishing company they work at Aria is the one other Black woman there besides Edie; two characters who are the same yet simultaneously different. Aria’s determined agency is what she hopes will get her ahead in her career while Edie remains uninspired and passive within their shared workplace. Leilani’s keen observations between the two further cement the strictly rooted experiences particularly lived by Black women, one where we must face and traverse the constricting racial landscape of a capitalist America. In a New York Times profile, the author reflects on her intentions for her protagonist Edie:

“Her goal in developing the character of Edie was to melt away the ‘studiedness’ that people — especially Black people — learn as a survival mechanism in a world where they are constantly surveilled.”
Edie understands that particular feeling — there’s a buzz of familiarity when reading Leilani’s words, of someone understanding — if only to not act on it, but to simply acknowledge it — a flâneur in her own right. Moored and anchored by Leilani’s words, here, we are able to be seen, felt, and understood, in contrast to how Edie and Aria viewed and navigated each other within their workplace — yes, there is the acknowledgment of one another, which is expectant when you are one of the few Black people, yet alone Black women working at a company. But not until their co-working relationship comes to a close does Aria earnestly declare to Edie, “We could’ve been friends. I really needed a friend here.”

It’s soon after when Aria melts back into her cool professionalism, indicating her “studieness” of their environment and of Edie that she’s been meticulously documenting all along, further expressing how Edie is “exactly what they expect”. At one point even stating how she will “shuck and jive” until she is at the top. On the other hand, Edie’s behavior is in great opposition to Aria’s character who bends and morphs herself as a means to adapt. Both are commendable in their own right and are a shared experience in which Black women must be attuned to in order to make it while also having been methodically trained to squeeze into spaces where we are not welcomed if only to survive. But rarely, are we given this from a perspective such as Edie’s, as opposed to that of Aria’s. The two do the best with what they can. And it is with this hyper sensitivity to their surroundings and their place not within it, do the two bond, if only briefly.

Through these contrasts, which give the novel movement — Leilani’s story takes shape and gains its legs, utilizing the canvas of these distinctions to examine and peel apart Edie’s feelings, her environment, and those around her — for which she also attempts to record down with paint.

Edie, though, cognizant of her surroundings, does not adhere to her stifling white spaces. She is unapologetically herself. She does not conform to the restrictions of the publishing company, though she risks being fired, for which she ultimately is. She is sexually adventurous in a world where Black women are otherwise stereotyped and condemned for such behavior. She does not care for conformity. She will not succumb to it. She will be who she wants to be, and she will welcome anyone who wants to understand her as this.
Edie rides on the coattails of her own desire. To dare to approach her arbitrary restrictions of having to be continually observant within white spaces, and her rigid incompliance to it, is something of a gift, a rarity, a daring. The feel to document and comment on white behaviors and microaggressions, as explained in Kaitlyn Greenidge’s Virginia Quarterly Review piece leaves Edie “in a kind of paralysis” in having to constantly dwell on this particular hyperawareness as a way of living. In one scene, Edie so excruciatingly articulates, “…a thing immediately recognizable to me for being myself that thing which is both hypervisable and invisible: black and alone.” Again, Edie recognizes these confines for what they are, but she instead scoffs them off, she finds a way. She takes up space, by refusing to contort to those limitations set in place, ultimately breaking from its binds (so to speak), though she is still so sharply aware of them. It’s freeing to watch a Black woman do so. Refreshing, too.
Recently, within our society we are witnessing an incipient awakening of Black women volition, a time in which, more than ever, we are unapologetically staking our claim. Black women are not only acknowledging they are deserving of more. More room. More space. A seat at the table. They are advocating to make these changes come to fruition, in ways which previously weren’t a possibility. Leilani states in a New York Times piece:
“I wanted Edie to take up space,” she said. “I wanted her to always be articulating to us, even though she’s not articulating to the people in her environment, what she wanted.”

Take for example, Michaela Coel’s adamance in having full creative control of her hit television show I May Destroy, despite receiving a $1 million offer from Netflix. It’s the same adamancy and intention in which her character Tracey from her hit series Chewing Gum possesses as well. “On one hand, it’s about a Christian girl who wants to lose her virginity,” Coel explains in her New York Magazine profile. “On the other, it’s about a girl who is marginalized from the world and wants to be a part of the world, and so she pursues that right as loudly and as absurdly as she can because it’s part of her humanity.”

Moreover we are seeing women of color do so, too. Following the necessary reckoning many companies faced due largely to the Black Lives Matter movement which served as the catalyst for BIPOC employees voicing their mistreatment within the workplace, establishments soon scrambled to save face, promising transparency and better practices after years of unchecked racism, though for many they are still indolently falling behind with change not happening fast enough. Most recently in the case of Priya Krishna’s recent exit at Bon Appétit. On August 6th, the food writer announced her departure from the disgraced magazine in a statement via Twitter, “To my BIPOC peers: Don’t settle. Recognize your worth — these publications need us more than we need them. I hope to find platforms that value me, treat me as a three-dimensional person, and provide a safe environment.”
Through Edie, through Leilani, through Coel, through Tracey, through Krishna, we too are seen, we are heard, when we so often are regulated to the periphery. That’s where the hopefulness lies: we are given a chance through their writing, their characters, their actions. To live so loudly and bravely, to rage against the machine, is how Edie shines. Towards the end of the novel, Edie remarks:

“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 life subject to a close and inappropriate reading that occasionally finds its way, often insufficiently, into paint. And when I am alone with myself, this is what I am waiting for someone to do to me, with merciless, deliberate hands, to put me down onto the canvas so that when I’m gone, there will be a record, proof that I was here.”

With Leilani’s scathing, mordant writing it’s only natural to want for more. Though Leilani is able to be so succinct and precise with her wording as to get the effective response, there is no need for any extraneous frivolity. The want for more is a selfish pursuit, but for now though please feel free to sustain yourself with Leilani’s other short fiction. Lastly, it only feels right to thank Leilani, because so rarely are we given stories such as these, with protagonists such as Edie.
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This debut novel introduces a brave, compelling, new voice to the world of literary fiction. Luster follows  Edie, a young black woman stifling under the weight and desperation of her isolation and loneliness. The narrative voice  is nuanced, dark, yet earnest, in its efforts to provide sharp insights into human reality within mounting chaos. The writer's biting observations provide both humor and a searing sense of reality.  Leilani crafts a gorgeous story about intimacy and art that  moves you, breaks you and stays with you long after the last chapter.
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The synopsis of the book had me interested but I felt this book fell flat for me personally. The plot was interesting but I found myself confused by which way the book was going. It just wasn't my type of book but maybe others would like it.
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There’s been so many positive reviews about this book, I’ve spent several days pondering why I didn’t like it as well as I had assumed I would. I knew there was going to be a book with plenty of sex in it. I knew it was about a black woman who had an affair with a married white man and that the wife would invite the girlfriend to move in with them. I think that there are two things that most troubled me about this book. Everyone’s life seemed so joyless and that I could identify with no one.  The most joyous aspect of this book was raven Lelaini’s ability to write equals that of an artist with paint, she can paint words that in a short time tell a story about a girl who cannot find herself.
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Ahhh this was so twisted and uncomfortable but comforting at the same time??

Ownvoices review: https://youtu.be/pLFxk_mtNn8

Content warnings: cheating elements, surprise pregnancy, miscarriage, asphyxiation, racism against a Black women & girls, violent cop encounter, overdose, drug use
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Edie is a 20-something, Black aspiring artist in New York. But working a dead-end job and having a series of ill-advised sexual relationships with coworkers has left her adrift. When she starts seeing Eric, she agrees to the rules of his open marriage. But before long, she becomes entangled in his whole family's dirty laundry as a strange kind of friend to his wife and mentor to his adopted Black daughter.

HOLY SHIT THIS BOOK. It's cringey and messy and chaotic and sooooooo good. Edie is full of contradictions, but everything about her voice is perfection. Eric, Rebecca, and Akila.... how can this family possibly have so much nuance in so few words? There were so many moments when I just yelled "THIS IS SO GOOD!!!" at the top of my lungs. (And I agree with Roxane Gay. Thank god my 20s are over!)
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TL;DR REVIEW:

Luster is a searing, unflinching novel about art and sex and racism and womanhood that looks its characters right in the face. It was so good.

For you if: You like novels that don’t shy away from hard, messy things.

FULL REVIEW:

“It’s not that I want exactly this, to have a husband or home security system that, for the length of our marriage, never goes off. 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.”


So, wow. This book absolutely lives up to the hype that’s been built around it. I honestly can’t believe that it’s a debut. Leilani is masterful.

The story is about a character named Edie, who is a young 20-something Black woman battling the balance between adulting and living unrestrained. She works in an underpaid role in a stifling office environment, within view of the job she really wants but can’t quite get. She struggles to paint. She seeks thrills that tend to land her in a bit of trouble. And then she starts dating Eric, who’s in his 40s and has permission from his wife to start dating other women, as long as he follows her rules. Edie ends up thrust into their lives and home in an unexpected way that changes them all (except maybe Eric, lol) forever.

From the very first chapter, I was swept off my feet by her sentences — “I only wish I could write sentences like this,” I thought. And that’s still true. But after a few chapters I realized that her real genius is at the paragraph level; her ability to build dizzying sets of sentences that burst open at the end, to use paragraphs like weapons — pages and pages long weapons, in some cases — to break off paragraphs where it’s going to cut deepest.

I wasn’t expecting but absolutely loved Edie’s relationship with Eric’s wife, Rebecca. She is fascinating, and I absolutely LOVED studying her through Edie’s eyes. And as the novel went on, focusing much more on Edie and Rebecca and Edie and Akila (Eric and Rebecca’s adopted daughter, who is Black), and less and less on Edie and Eric, I was drawn in even more.

There is just so much here. I think that this book will be a favorite by those who love both cerebral and commercial fiction. I think Raven Leilani is a force to be reckoned with. And I think I need to re-read this book a few times to get everything that it has to offer me. Read it.



TRIGGER WARNINGS:
Borderline-consensual sexual violence; Miscarriage; Racism and microaggressions
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Luster is the story of Edie, a 20-something woman trying to survive. She is struggling to find her place and direction and ends up in a truly bizarre and cringe-worthy living arrangement *spoiler alert* with the man she is having an affair with.. and his wife and daughter. Her presence there is simultaneously despised and needed. Somehow Leilani had me feeling sympathetic towards every single character, even though their life experiences were so divergent from mine. She explores a wide swath of themes, including sexuality, love, parenting, race relations, police brutality, marriage, friendship, and, believe it or not, more. You may not always enjoy the journey, but this book will stay with you.
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Some of the best sentence-level writing I've ever read! Planning to search for and devour all Leilani's short stories now. Often reminded me of a more literary Queenie.
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I tried several times to engage with this book because it sounded so wonderful. Others' reviews suggest that I missed out by nor being able to finish it. My loss.
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