LUSTER by Raven Leilani

From the Jacket

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.

My Thoughts

LUSTER’s main character, Edie, is another one of those slightly f***ed-up twenty-something millennial protagonists who I recognize too much of myself in. She’s got a pretty horrid love life, some meaningless one night stands but nothing serious, and she’s miserable at work, stuck in an office with people she doesn’t like doing work she hates, when she’d much rather be painting. Add in a shitty Bushwick apartment, and I think it’s fair to say Edie is unhappy. She’s unsure of everything, trying too hard to find her place but also not trying at all. She’s a protagonist I related to so easily and then felt embarrassed for doing so.

Then we have Eric, her knight in shining armor. In the weirdest of ways, Edie and Eric are more than just Tinder lovers… he’s twice her age, and after their first date at a Six Flags, he becomes a kind-of father figure to her. In a strange, unexpected turn of events, Edie enters his home, becoming an ally/friend to Eric’s wife Rebecca and a much-needed role model for their black adopted daughter, Akila. Beyond that, the plot of LUSTER is difficult to describe. It’s the screwed-up relationship dynamics of Marcy Dermansky’s VERY NICE meets the messy love life of QUEENIE and the miserable office life of THE NEW ME, all as if it were written by Ottessa Moshfegh (but less stomach-flipping).

“Imagine living life so carefully that there are no signs you lived at all”

And the writing! LUSTER has that raw, urgent writing style that is so on trend these days, short, punchy sentences followed by lengthy, descriptive ramblings jam-packed with metaphor. Leilani places us directly into the mind of her protagonist, and there is no escaping Edie’s intense loneliness and unhappiness. What impresses me most about this novel is not only the writing, but the way it made me feel so intensely with Edie, almost like I was right inside her brain. It’s always refreshing to feel so connected with a novel’s main character, and I definitely felt that connection with Edie.

“I couldn’t tell if I liked being alone, or if I only endured it”

It seems everyone is drooling over Raven Leilani’s debut LUSTER at the moment, and rightly so. It’s raw, addictive, honest, and gorgeously written, if not uncomfortable to read at times. LUSTER is truly one of the most impressive debuts I have (ever?) read. It is a masterful work of millennial fiction, fully deserving of all of its praise. Believe the hype on this one.

Further Reading

“Zadie Smith Reviews Raven Leilani’s Debut Luster” by Zadie Smith, Harper’s Bazaar
“A Conversation with Raven Leilani” by Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire


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