A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2020
A BEST BOOK OF 2020: NPR, O Magazine, Kirkus, Time, Good Housekeeping, The New York Public Library, New Statesman, Shelf Awareness, Chatelaine
A BEST BOOK FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS: AV Club, Chicago Tribune, New York Magazine/The Strategist
WINNER OF THE KIRKUS PRIZE
AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
NATIONAL INDIE BESTSELLER * LOS ANGELES TIMES BESTSELLER * WASHINGTON POST BESTSELLER
"So delicious that it feels illicit . . . Raven Leilani’s first novel reads like summer: sentences like ice that crackle or melt into a languorous drip; plot suddenly, wildly flying forward like a bike down a hill." —Jazmine Hughes, The New York Times Book Review
“An irreverent intergenerational tale of race and class that’s blisteringly smart and fan-yourself sexy.” —Michelle Hart, O: The Oprah Magazine
No one wants what no one wants.
And how do we even know what we want? How do we know we’re ready to take it?
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 is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. 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 invited into Eric’s home—though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows.
Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life—her hunger, her anger—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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Whew. There is a lot going on in Raven Leilani’s whip-smart debut, a novel that takes on issues of race, class, sex, art, and identity and doesn’t back down from any of the complicated feelings stirred up. Aspiring artist Edie finds herself in a personal tailspin when she’s drawn into a middle-aged couple’s open marriage and their comfy suburban home. We follow the 23-year-old as she navigates her relationships with the increasingly unreliable Eric, his seemingly placid wife, Rebecca, and their adopted teenage daughter, Akila, who’s as confused as Edie is about how to be a Black woman in white-dominated spaces. Leilani structures the book around Edie’s interior monologue—and she does an amazing job of capturing her heroine’s emotional fearlessness, which intensifies as Edie pours the turmoil surrounding her into her art. Luster is a deeply erotic novel even when there’s no sex on the page. It’s the sort of book you’ll give to your friends so that you’ll have someone to talk about it with.
Leilani debuts with a moving examination of a young black woman's economic desperation and her relationship to violence. Edie is a 20-something low-level employee at a New York city publishing house. She paints on the side, but not often or well enough to comfortably call herself an artist, and she's infatuated with Eric Walker, a married white man twice her age she met online, with whom she explores his thirst for aggressive domination ("I think I'd like to hit you," he says; she lets him) and is caught breaking the rules of Eric's open marriage (no going to his house). After Edie loses her job, Eric's wife, Rebecca, invites her to stay with them in New Jersey. The arrangement functions partly to vex Eric and partly to support Akila, the Walkers' adopted black daughter. An inevitable betrayal cracks the household's veneer of civility, and suddenly Edie must make new arrangements. She does so in earnest, but not before a horrific scene in which Edie and Akila are victims of police brutality. Edie's ability to navigate the complicated relationships with the Walkers exhibits Leilani's mastery of nuance, and the narration is perceptive, funny, and emotionally charged. Edie's frank, self-possessed voice will keep a firm grip on readers all the way to the bitter end.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Complicated but intriguing
Loved the writing, storyline complexed and dark but oh so good!
I love this book.
This book was like walking/sitting/being next to the main character on a tale that was a hell of a roller coaster. I loved every second. The author gave you back stage access to an artist’s mind and a woman’s heart. Actually 3 artist’s minds and 3 women’s hearts now that I think about it. I love this book.
Under Developed Story Lines
Chose this book after it appeared on the Today Show. I found all the characters empty and tragic. Story lines started but never really felt complete. To much left to the imagination and blanks not filled in. On the last page I was left still trying to turn the page.