Luster by Raven Leilani
To be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux on August 4, 2020
my rating: ★★★★.5 (4.5 stars)
Goodreads avg: 4.18 (as of 2020-07-17)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. Quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.
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.
I think of all the gods I have made out of feeble men.
This is an absolutely stunning debut from Leilani. From the first page, I was hooked by the writing style; the flat tone elevated my reading experience, emphasizing just how much Edie has given up on life and boosting my emotional connection to her. While at first the novel appears to focus on her relationship with Eric, a mediocre white man in an open marriage, it shifts (thank god) and focuses more strongly on Edie’s relationship with Eric’s wife, Rebecca, and his Black daughter, Akila. Their friendship is tenuous and charged and impossible to look away from.
Not everyone is going to get along with this; I’d shelve it into the same category as Supper Club and The Pisces. Luster is about a messy woman who is just barely keeping it together. She makes terrible decisions, and knows that she makes terrible decisions. It’s heartening to see this kind of novel featuring an ownvoices Black woman: as Edie herself comments in the novel, society has lower expectations of Black women and they have to be twice as good to be recognized as such. To allow a Black woman to be messy and difficult is all the more important in this context.
I’m honestly stunned that this is a debut and will be keeping a sharp eye out for Leilani’s future works. I’ll go as far as to say that she may have cemented herself as an auto-buy author for me and I am not complaining. Definitely recommend this if it sounds like it would be your kind of thing, and am hopeful that we’ll see this longlisted for the Women’s Prize.
I am a white woman and my review is written through that lens. If you are an ownvoices reviewer who would like your review linked here, please let me know!