By Raven Leilani
My rating: 5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.59
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Format Read: Audiobook
Goodreads summary: 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.
Content Warnings: honestly this book was depressing in all the ways you would expect a young girl with low self worth to be depressing, so no specific content warnings just that warning in general.
I don’t know where to start. Raven Leilani’s book was so incredible from start to finish that my emotions feel ripped out of me and laid raw. This book was GOOD. But this book was also bad in that I desperately wanted more for Edie. I desperately wanted her to get better, for her to improve and see herself and her life in a different way. Leilani doesn’t allow us to look away for even a second, and that’s what makes this book so good. Had she softened the blow for us at any point, it quite simply would not have nearly as much power as it did.
Luster is a book about a black girl in her 20s who has a job she doesn’t really like and isn’t really good at, a talent for painting that she refuses to believe in, and a much older white boyfriend who has a white wife and black daughter waiting for him at home. Edie is attempting to navigate this relationship while never quite fully giving herself in to it. She has always made bad choices sexually, and she never for a second tries to convince herself that this is any different. When she ends up meeting his family, she realizes that his daughter, Akila, has quite literally no black role models to help her through life. Things as simple as recognizing that her tutor is racist or learning to put relaxer in her hair is something Akila has been navigating alone.
The contrast of the older and more “damaged” Edie and the younger but increasingly damaged Akila truly brought me to tears. Not only are we forced to reckon with Edie’s life, but the way Leilani writes makes us worry that Akila’s life will head the same way as well. This book is best described as if you are inside the head of a manic pixie dream girl, so instead of seeing her as enamoring and free, you see just how fucked up she is to make her behave that way for men.
Leilani truly has some of the most beautiful writing of anyone that I’ve ever read. The way she manages to write so raw and presently but also poetically is something that I aspire to be able to accomplish at some point in my life. I would not say that this is a book anyone would want to read twice because of the content, but it is a book that I want to study just to see how she managed to put so much emotion into her words. I cannot say enough good things about Raven Leilani and I absolutely will be reading any other books she publishes.
The audiobook experience is not one that I would recommend for this particular book! I would have much preferred to read this and be able to see the words on the page rather than listen to it. Other than that though- only good things to say!