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Luster by Raven Leilani

Literary fiction

Luster

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Raven Leilani, on your first book!

by Raven Leilani

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Quick take

Life as a 20-something New Yorker is far from glamorous in this biting account of sex, racism, art, and power.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Love_Triangle

    Love triangle

  • Illustrated icon, Millenial

    Millennial

  • Illustrated icon, Buzzy

    Buzzy

  • Illustrated icon, Salacious

    Salacious

Synopsis

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.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Luster.

Luster

1

The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light. He is uptown processing a new bundle of microfiche and I am downtown handling corrections for a new Labrador detective manuscript. He tells me what he ate for lunch and asks if I can manage to take off my underwear in my cubicle without anyone noticing. His messages come with impeccable punctuation. He is fond of words like taste and spread. The empty text field is full of possibilities. Of course I worry about IT remoting into my computer, or my internet history warranting yet another disciplinary meeting with HR. But the risk. The thrill of a third pair of unseen eyes. The idea that someone in the office, with that sweet, post-lunch-break optimism, might come across the thread and see how tenderly Eric and I have built this private world.

In his first message, he points out a few typos in my online profile and tells me he has an open marriage. His profile pictures are candid and loose—a grainy photo of him asleep in the sand, a photo of him shaving, taken from behind. It is this last photo that moves me. The dirty tile and the soft recession of steam. His face in the mirror, stern with quiet scrutiny. I save the photo to my phone so I can look at it on the train. Women look over my shoulder and smile, and I let them believe he is mine.

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Why I love it

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.

Member ratings (5,794)

  • Beth H.

    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.

  • Michelle H.

    Durham, NC

    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

  • ERIN C.

    Round Rock, TX

    Sharp SHARP writing. The plot was an unexpected ride, but the intimacy and detail of the writing made it all make sense. Already can’t wait to read it again because I’m sure it’ll be a new experience.

  • Trisha B.

    Norman, OK

    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...

  • Velvet G.

    Blaine, WA

    If there was a rated R equivalent of a “coming of age” story for your 20s, this would be it. A lot of powerful emotions/experiences that I found relatable, the pacing of the story sprinting. Loved it.

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Real Americans
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Bear
Mercury
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Family Happiness
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The Lady Waiting
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Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow
Banyan Moon
Shark Heart
Transcendent Kingdom
Hello Beautiful
Dominicana
What's Mine and Yours
The Unsettled
Ask Again, Yes
Vladimir
Infinite Country
The Prophets
Normal People
The Verifiers
Salvage the Bones
The Many Daughters of Afong Moy
I Have Some Questions for You
Black Buck
The History of Love
Age of Vice
Paper Names
The Light Pirate
The Secret History
The Kite Runner
Memorial
The Half Moon
Happiness Falls
The Gifted School
The Death of Vivek Oji
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Yerba Buena
Beautiful World, Where Are You
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