Luster by Raven Leilani
Published: August 4, 2020 by Macmillan Audio
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Synopsis: 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.
Review: This is probably one of the sharpest, wittiest debut novels I have ever read. The author is very good at evoking an atmosphere and feeling from the reader with her words. The entire book felt authentic and raw to me. Which is also why I found it largely sad and uninspiring.
The audiobook narrator was just perfect for this book too. Edie is cynical and fatalistic about literally everything. The narrator perfectly matched that attitude and it was wonderful. That’s also why I wasn’t really invested in this book for most of it. Most of the book is Edie making foolish decisions, getting hurt by it, and repeating those decisions. Which, I think, a lot of us can probably relate to from our early 20’s. I know I can. And an older, hopefully wiser, version of me wanted to appeal to her to stop it. That she was destroying herself for the convenience of others and it wasn’t worth it.
The ending of this book made it for me. I listened to the entire last three hours in one sitting, it was absolutely riveting. All of a sudden all those fatalistic, disparate threads of plot were pulled together in a beautiful moment of clarity for Edie. That ending took this book from a two star book to a four star book, without a doubt.