Life as a 20-something New Yorker is far from glamorous in this biting account of sex, racism, art, and power.
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Why I love it
Author, Intimacies (forthcoming)
Reading Luster is like watching an acrobat perform a high wire routine: I experienced awe, exhilaration, the knife-edge of anxiety. This is an unforgettable book, and Leilani is a fearless and daring writer. She goes where others fear to tread, writing with deadly precision and scorching honesty.
Edie is a 20-something Black woman navigating a world of casual racism and complex sexual politics. She’s working out how to pay rent, keep her job, grow as an artist. She’s also figuring out how to find and take her pleasure. Edie is soon in an entanglement—the third party in an open marriage, living in the suburbs, serving as a racial role model for the couple’s adopted daughter.
Luster contains some of the sharpest writing you’ll find on race, sex, and class. It’s also a nerd-centered, disco-filled, adrenaline shot of exuberance and dark humor. It’s Parasite meets I May Destroy You by way of Ottessa Moshfegh. It knocked me sideways, and I hope it does the same to you.
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's also, secretly, haltingly figuring her way into life as an artist. 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 falling into Eric's family life, his home. She becomes hesitant friend to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie is the only black woman young Akila may know.
Razor sharp, darkly comic, sexually charged, socially disruptive, Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make her sense of her life in a tumultuous era.
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Ashland , OH
Ugly & raw & beautiful & absolutely perfect. It made me feel dirty and uncomfortable in the best possible way. I love this debut, can’t wait for more from Leilani. If you don’t love it you’re wrong.
Costa Mesa, CA
I see words like raw and dirty to describe it, and yes they are fitting, but don’t capture the naked vulnerability. Harsh & disturbing, it’s realistic. So read this book because words don’t capture it
Another book that won’t please everyone—but it is raw and transcendent. I might use it to weed out people in my inner book circle. If you didn’t like this, you’re out. Gorgeous and real and ugly...
Madison , WI
Wow-so this novel was super raw, real & relatable. Edie is a hot mess, but hey, she’s 23. This novel was deep, poetic, & I read it in 1 sitting. It was like nothing I’ve read before-in the best way.
As soon as I saw this on BOTM’s instagram, I knew I had to pick this up. Also, the first page has you hooked. Open marriages, phone/computer sex. You can’t just stop after that. Great debut novel!
Never have I thought to recommend a book based on the sentences. But the sentences in this book will take your breath away. Unputdownable - I can’t wait to read everything else this author will write
Madison , WI
This dynamic was just unreal, this girl had deep issues, and I’m still wondering if I even liked this main character, or the man she was having an affair with. So much thought, but not enough space to
Salt Lake City, UT
Highly relatable w/tightly-written, perceptive language. This was a sobering read about the life of a (Black) millennial. Sad, sassy, colorful, and thought-provoking. A fitting book for current times.
Had no idea what I was getting into, but ending up loving Luster. I could see why some people hated the main character, but I found the writing very nuanced despite seeming crass or crude at the onset
Beautifully written, raw and a fascinating look at the inner lives of three very different people. I am nothing like these characters and yet I could relate on a human level. The skill.Amazing debut.
Bukowski with a pint of Story of O mixed with glimpses into the Women's Room of a modern Awakening meets Atwood's Edible Woman in a Surfacing like a classical Sartre. L'etranger NY 2020 woman style.
Santa Clarita, CA
This book stayed with me after I finished it, which does not always happen. It had a very original plot, but the only character I felt empathy for was the adopted daughter. The grownups were a trip.
Edie’s story is messy, raw, unflinching and uncomfortable and I gobbled it up. Beautiful writing that was both sparse and meaty. Finishing this felt like reluctantly waking up from a strange dream.
Milwaukee , WI
This book may not be for everyone, but I loved it. From the author’s unique writing style to its focus on real, imperfect characters, it won me over. The compelling story drew me in from page one.
Wow. Wow. Wow!! I loved every inch of this book. Edie is strong yet I wanted to yell at her because of her frustrating choices. And, the relationship that forms between Rebecca and Edie is powerful.
Wauwatosa , WI
Every word in this story broke my heart and gave me the “feels.” Luster explored so many topics and I appreciated the raw and ugly descriptions. I definitely have a book hangover after this one!
This book is poetic and I loved the writing style Leilani uses throughout. Edie is a complete mess but relatable in a sense as well. I read this in one day and needed time to come back to reality.
The premise seemed interesting and similar ones have been done before, but it is the writing in Luster that captured me. Plenty of self loathing, with the right amount of humor to balance it out.
Awkward. Confusing. Dark. Deep. I was not expecting this. I loved it so much. At first I was weary but it as I kept reading I started to law the awkwardness/weirdness of the book & the characters
Vineyard Haven, MA
Effortless & powerful in its uncomfortable honesty. Reads like contemporary prose in the eloquent mind of a raw 20something New Yorker. If u think it’s unrealistic, you must not be a New Yorker.