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Navigating this world is no joke. For Edie, a 20-something living a half-life in Bushwick (lousy job, lousy apartment), the arrival of Eric, a successful digital archivist with an open marriage, looks like a great escape from her millennial ennui. After some chaste encounters, Eric brings Edie home, but she ends up running into Rebecca, his blasé wife, who is about to throw an anniversary party. The dutiful and bemused wife chases down a stunned Edie, drags her upstairs, gives her some fancy duds and asks her to assist at the party.

When Eric discovers her there, Edie assumes the worst. But having gotten a glimpse of Eric’s adopted black daughter, she knows that she has stumbled onto a life with inherent mystery. Having lost every security she has had in her life up to that point, she is invited to live with Eric, Rebecca and little Akila. LUSTER then takes a deep dive into serious soul-searching and Edie’s attempts to figure out where and how she belongs to this raucous, unpredictable world.

"The novel is written with bravado and a keen eye that you would expect to belong to an older, more established writer.... It’s a maddening portrayal that will leave a searing imprint on your book brain for a long time to come."

Raven Leilani, already a New York Times bestselling author with the release of this much-hyped debut novel, is adept in a way that few young writers are when it comes to language. The language here is in direct opposition to how Edie acts; her choices are so phenomenally bad that you can’t believe she could think in such a thoughtful and forthright manner. However, it is in this conflict of lifestyle and mindset that the real poetry of this book becomes apparent. As Edie struggles to find her place, her inner musings take us on a journey that includes not only the day-to-day bizarro world that she steps into, but also the attempts she makes to discover who she really is.

There is a lot of moaning and whining here, but it’s so beautifully constructed that, like Mrs. Dalloway or Holden Caulfield, you feel as if you are a psychotherapist delving into the private thoughts and heart of a real live person. More than a well-written character study, it’s a major modern millennial refurbishment of reputation and intelligence. Edie is lazy but smart, desperate but well-equipped to suffer through the indignities and strange circumstances she encounters with Eric, Rebecca, Akila and the secret suburbs.

Some of her experiences will make you laugh, while others will make you cringe. LUSTER is such a shining gem of both honesty and surreal humor that you will find yourself worrying about Edie as you go about your day; so much could and does happen to her that you can’t get it out of your mind. Until every last page has been devoured, this bold book takes a truthful hold of everything we think about the millennial generation and turns it upside down at the same time. Edie is complicated, impulsive, thoughtful, humane, ridiculous and yearning. Her desires are so sharp that we feel cut by them, and her discoveries are so surprising that we feel undone by them. It seems that every other character in the book exists in order for us to understand Edie better. Her voice is so strong and insistent that she often drowns out the people with whom she is interacting.

However, our modern world of longing and want, and the millennials’ need for instant gratification, clash and force LUSTER off the cliff of literary experience. The novel is written with bravado and a keen eye that you would expect to belong to an older, more established writer. That someone like Leilani can write a book that sums up this time in a well-fashioned yarn while we are still living it is a feat that deserves your full attention. It’s a maddening portrayal that will leave a searing imprint on your book brain for a long time to come.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on August 21, 2020

by Raven Leilani

  • Publication Date: August 4, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • ISBN-10: 0374194327
  • ISBN-13: 9780374194321