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 decided to read Luster because it was one of last year’s Goodreads Choice Award nominees. I always love looking through that list and trying to read as many books as I can before the voting ends. Last year didn’t go very well so I’ve barely scraped the top of the pile with the list, but oh well. More reading to look forward to.
Anyway, back to Luster. Written in a uniquely detached and lonely way, the story follows Edie as she has a relationship with an older married man, Eric. His marriage is open, with rules that begin to shift and change as Edie becomes homeless and then starts living with his family, by invitation of Eric’s wife.
I’m finding this book hard to review because while I really liked the first half the book, I felt like it lost it’s luster in the middle. Leliani does a fantastic job setting up her characters throughout the beginning. Edie is a character whom I thought was easy to sympathize with. Remember what it’s like being in your early twenties? When everything in life feels like it’s so much to deal with and you’re lonely and horny and just so confused. Well Edie personifies this feeling. And despite the relationship not being the most positive depiction of an open marriage, I do think it is a realistic depiction. Open relationships can be difficult to navigate, and a lack of communication is a common relationship problem even in monogamous relationships. So I felt like all that Leliani wrote was realistic and well written.
Unfortunately in the middle and to the end of the book I felt like the story became a bit stagnant. Which on the one hand I understood because Edie herself was in a stagnant place, stuck in a situation that wasn’t good for her or the other people involved. Still it was this slowing down of the story that made me loose some interest. I felt bogged down by Edie’s lack of motivation and other issues. I wanted to see her in a happier situation, but finishing the book began to feel a bit like a chore.
Still I did manage to read the entire book and I do think there are some really good parts in it. I think that Raven Leliani is a good writer and I’m excited to see what else she’ll write in the future. In the end this book was a solid three star read for me.