Raven Leilani's first novel, Luster, is a rocket-paced, sensual fever dream of sex, trauma, relationships and conflicting perceptions.
Edie is in her 20s and struggling, with her crappy shared Bushwick apartment, her low-level position in children's publishing, her uninspired sexual choices and her irritable bowel syndrome. Her parents are dead, but the psychic wounds they inflicted are not. Her painting is not going well, and she is a Black woman in New York City. "Racism is often so mundane it leaves your head spinning, the hand of the ordinary in your slow, psychic death so sly and absurd you begin to distrust your own eyes." Early on, her affair with Eric seems different, refreshing, in spite of, or because of, the 23-year age gap. Then Edie gets fired and evicted, and she spirals, landing, weirdly, in the middle of someone else's marriage. She knew from the start that Eric was in an open marriage--his wife set a lot of rules for his relationship with Edie. But suddenly she finds herself taken in, literally, by Rebecca, living in their guest room in New Jersey and asked to mentor this white couple's adopted Black daughter, Akila. Surreality seems to be Edie's default, but now the funhouse mirror tilts again.
Edie's first-person narration is nearly stream-of-consciousness, long sentences overflowing with imaginative visual impressions and self-deprecation. Her particular blend of despair, panic and self-destruction is spellbinding. Luster is intoxicating and surprising, never letting readers settle into recognizable patterns. Leilani has crafted an unforgettable novel about a young woman making her own way. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia