Book Review: Luster
By: Jess Williams-Sullivan
There comes a time after reading a really, really good book when you want to talk to others about it. This does not happen with every book, which is, in my opinion, what distinguishes a good book from a great book. Luster by Raven Leilani, is one of those great books, and “great” is an understatement. Thankfully, Leilani has received much praise for her debut novel, which is so well deserved, and frankly, not quite enough.
Luster follows Edie, a twenty-three Black woman, who works an administrative job at a publishing company and lives in a cockroach infested apartment. She’s an aspiring artist, trying to reconnect to her painting and attempting to pursue it seriously. She’s infallibly human, going on dates, sleeping with coworkers and watching porn at work. She goes on a date with a white man named Eric, who works as a digital archivist. Eric is married to a woman named Rebecca, and they’ve agreed to be in an open marriage. As Edie meets Rebecca, they become friends as Edie loses her job. She forms a tentative friendship with Rebecca and their adopted daughter, Akila.
This novel tackles so many topics, from interracial relationships and race and sexuality to capitalism and reconstructing domesticity. Leilani tells the story with beautiful language that has you cringing one second and crying the next. Luster is bleak and funny and cringey and unapologetically real.
“I’m an open book,” I say, thinking of all the men who 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 reach read, I can get rid of all these clauses, please, I’ll just revise.”
Edie is full of ennui, and knows that she’s “good, but not good enough, which is worse than simply being bad. It is almost.” Leilani’s words pierce the skin, and Edie’s fallibility makes her the character I personally need: she’s not perfect and doesn’t pretend to be. I know this book sounds depressing, and it is. But it’s also full of life and laughter and love. This is a novel about what it’s like to be young right now, while also regularly dropping gold nuggets of the world today.
Luster is unforgettable, a debut novel that is somehow simultaneously pleasurable and depressing. At the core of each cringe-worthy sentence is pleasure – pleasure for being human, for being able to make mistakes, for being able to live. There’s so much to say about this novel and none of it is enough to do it justice. Please, please, please, read this book.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374194321, 240 pp. $26.00
Published August 4, 2020
Picture source: https://ew.com/books/raven-leilani-luster-profile/