Luster: a novel / Raven Leilani
Leilani’s debut novel, Luster, takes the reader through the daily ups and downs of a 23-year-old Black art school dropout living in a mouse-infested apartment in Bushwick. We immediately find that she is dating a man twice her age that she met on an app, who is in an open marriage. Other difficulties include concern over being the diversity hire at a children’s book publisher, gig work, and wondering if the affluent around her know what it is like to not have to worry about the day-to-day needs of food and shelter. In other words, an authentic Gen Z-perspective.
The novel provokes major cringe as race, class, and sex alchemize in a soup of oppressive systems. While delivering takeout, the protagonist, Edie, runs into her lover’s wife, also twice her age, white, and a doctor. When invited to stay, she does. Even if these scenarios feel implausible, the invisible forces that magnetize and repel characters ring true. Edie continues to linger in fraught spaces, forcing the reader to sit with this tension. The page-turning pull remains anchored in service to Edie’s compassionate and redemptive relationship with herself.
Leilani is a relevant and fresh voice that fuses beauty and recoil, illustrating the complexity of trauma, grief, and oppression. The layered metaphors showcase the author’s poetry background. Fans of Jesmyn Ward’s lyrical prose will find this enthralling. Highly recommended for fans of literary fiction or anyone seeking emerging talent.
AI: August 2023