Luster — Raven Leilani

Just finished reading Luster by Raven Leilani. I’ve seen this novel everywhere recently and though my experiences with the ‘books of the moment’ are usually disappointing, I felt compelled to seek out a new voice.

This book was a strange one for me: in some ways, I absolutely adored Leilani’s writing. She has a real ‘voice’ and some of her run-on sentences are pure artistry. But I was so confused about the plot of this book which follows a young woman struggling to make it in New York and deciding to enter the life of a wealthy family whose patriarch she is sexually involved with.

Edie, the protagonist, is a compelling character and through her perspective, Leilani is able to make some great observations about youth and race. Her relationship with her lover’s adopted daughter adds a much needed tenderness to what is mostly a very brusque work, filled with moments of sheer brilliance. But I couldn’t help but feel Leilani’s undeniable talent was wasted on a forgettable premise. It was a strange sensation to feel the author was somehow bigger than the work they were crafting.

This book, with its online dating and superhero franchise conventions has a specific 2020s appeal, but Leilani’s writing has a timeless quality that doesn’t bond with this subject matter. What I do hope is that the attention this author has received will lead to works more worthy of showcasing her enviable talent.

3/5

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