By Raven Leilani
Another one that had been sitting in my TBR for the longest time – thank you Matt for gifting me this beautiful book for my birthday!
Luster is Raven Leilani’s astonishing debut. It’s narrative ties us closely to Edie, a young black woman living in New York. She lives in a shitty, small apartment with a roommate she seems not to be closely bonded with, works in a publishing house where, aspirationally, she is trapped in a position adjacent to one that would utilise her artistic passion and skills. She is a painter, and grapples with understanding those around her by painting them – either in portraits or in metaphors. No matter how hard she tries, no matter which medium uses, she seems unable to capture her own true likeness in her work.
Edie meets Eric, a man who tells her he is in an open marriage. The two begin dating, but irrational decisions from both parties soon see Edie more involved in Erics life than she ever intended to be. She captures the curiosity of Rebecca, Erics wife, and Akila, Eric and Rebeccas adopted, pre-teen daughter, who is the only black person in their neighbourhood.
The narrative really races through Edies thoughts as we’re taken on the roller coaster of her lived experiences. She is funny and thoughtful but also troubled. She thinks back to losing her virginity as a teenager, to the abortion she went to have as a sixteen year old, to her strained relationship with her father and remembers her mother who killed herself. She is largely alone with her thoughts, which are poetic, sharp, rowdy, cutting, and beautiful. The prose is absolutely breath taking. However, due to its unrelentingly fast-paced nature, I found it kind of difficult to ruminate on her experiences as I was reading them.
Regardless, Leilani is able to allow Edie to carefully and tactfully toe the line of interesting character who makes fucking weird and random decisions, and character who is likeable. She makes these choices that are just completely inadvisable but I never cringed while reading and I never cursed or lost love for Edie when she was, for example, breaking into her boyfriends family home.
Relationships are the star of Luster – though Eric is the catalyst to the story, he is far from the most interesting relationship Edie has. I felt there was a sort of expectation from Rebecca for Edie to guide Akila, and to comfort her in her blackness. Edie is able to offer Akila some guideance in relation to maintaining her hair that her adoptive family seems to be unable to understand, but otherwise, Edie doesn’t even have her own life together – how is she meant to coach a young girl? She is thrusted in this position of mentorship largely because she is black, and there is seemingly little other reason. Luckily, Akila is dazzlingly wise and sees that Edie is not one to shape your life after.
This book is enchanting – everything is so grabbing and its hard to really think of details as your reading – you’re taken from word to word in an effortless flow that refuses to slow down for anyone. It’s still fabulously well paced and though its full of these beautiful little details, nothing ever feels redundant or like it should have been cut. I can see myself returning to this story.
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