Luster seemed to be the book on everyone’s lips at the start of this year. My grand plans had been to look away from all the noise of new books and focus on the ones that I have outstanding to read.
Within I’ll say a few days of scrolling on Instagram, I’d ordered Luster.
by Raven Leilani
Edie is just trying to survive. She’s messing up in her dead-end admin job in her all-white office, is sleeping with all the wrong men, and has failed at the only thing that meant anything to her, painting. No one seems to care that she doesn’t really know what she’s doing with her life beyond looking for her next hook-up. And then she meets Eric, a white, middle-aged archivist with a suburban family, including a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. As if navigating the constantly shifting landscape of sexual and racial politics as a young black woman wasn’t already hard enough, with nowhere else left to go, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s home and family.
Luster is about Edie, a young, broke black woman who gets involved with a wealthy older white couple. Firstly she connects with the husband, Eric, but it quickly morphs into an open relationship with both him and his wife Rebecca. Through this messy, complicated situation the author deftly covers the juxtapositions of wealth, race and gender in modern-day America.
The writing in Luster is superb. You might start thinking that it’s another millennial malaise but there are no clichés in here. I felt like on every page there was a line that made me laugh, wince or catch my breath. The author captures the grim reality of Edie’s life with such searing honesty, it’s hard to look directly at it. We see through Edie’s eyes the soul-destroying struggle of finding work to pay rent on a miserable apartment after she’s fired from her entry-level “equal opportunity” job at publishing.
Completely broke, Edie ends up staying in the couple’s suburban home. The chasm of wealth and opportunity between them is glaring, particularly shown through the fact that whilst Edie is staying with them that she is able to divulge in her craft as a painter. As Edie gets more drawn into their lives, she also gets closer to their black adoptive daughter Akila, a young teen in a very white neighbourhood.
Something I really liked was that the narrative moved away from Edie’s relationship with Eric – which could have become quite predictable – and instead became more focused on the vibrating tension between her and Rebecca. Edie is a hot mess, but Rebecca is calm, composed and moves through the world with the ease that her race and wealth affords her. They share a strange dynamic, both watching from a distance, and it is Rebecca who ends up being Edie’s artistic muse.
Luster is such an incredible, acerbic and biting read and in my opinion, it’s worth the hype. Oh, and it’s a debut… Just imagine what else we’ve got to come!
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