About the Book:
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.
“I couldn’t tell if I liked being alone, or if I only endured it.”
STUNNING, RAW AND POIGNANT. Can a book be both funny and sad? Tragic and brutal and honest? This extraordinary book is all of these things and more. Edie’s story is filled with dark humor and abject loneliness but is also a modern tale that is one the best books of the year.
Edie is stuck in a low-level publishing position in New York, engaging in very reckless and unsafe behavior but also prey to men who are in more powerful positions than she is. She is desperately lonely and barely making ends meet and really just yearning for some kind of human connection. If this sounds all too depressing, it isn’t in the hands of this author, who has one of the most unique voices I’ve ever read.
Edie meets Eric who tells her that he is in am open marriage and he wants to try and date for the first time in years. Besides the age gap, Edie feels that she must mold herself to whatever Eric wants, just as she has done with all her past relationships.
“I’m an open book,” I say, thinking of all the men who have found it illegible. I made mistakes with these men. I dove for their legs as they tried to leave my house. I chased them down the hall with a bottle of Listerine, saying, I can be a beach read, I can get rid of all these clauses, please, I’ll just revise.”
The author paints a very brutal picture of life in New York City for those on the fringes, barely scraping by and trying to make some kind of human connection. Raven Leilani writes in a very crisp, intelligent way that is immensely enjoyable. Not only does ‘Luster’ explore modern single life in New York City, it also explores themes of feminism, marriage, fidelity, family and race. The story is so creative and fast-paced that every scene felt necessary and believable.
Edie develops feelings for Eric but it is very clear who holds the power in their relationship.
“I am inclined to pray, but on principle, I don’t. God is not for women. He is for the fruit. He makes you want and he makes you wicked, and while you sleep, he plants a seed in your womb that will be born to die.”
Edie soon finds herself living at Eric’s home with his wife Rebecca and their adopted daughter Akila. The circumstances’ surrounding this living arrangement are not far-fetched at all but the dramatic tension escalates quickly between the main characters. Rebecca is grateful to have a role model for Akila, who is one of the most poignant characters in the book. But Edie is very insecure in her place in their household which is exacerbated by Eric and Rebecca’s behavior towards her.
With all of the dark humor and sharp observations of men and women and relationships, this is also an insightful book about race relations in the U.S. An innocent outing with Akila turns almost deadly and Edie knows that Akila will be forever changed by the encounter.
“This is my home, Akila says, and I know that the moment between when a black boy is upright and capable of speech and when he is prostrate in his own blood is almost imperceptible.”
All of this sounds like it makes for a depressing and distressing read but ‘Luster’ is brilliant and sharp and not to be missed! The audiobook was outstanding and the narrator made a perfect Edie. Put ‘Lust’ on your must-read list!
(Thank you to Libro.fm and the publisher for an Audiobook Listening Copy.)