Luster by Raven Leilani
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 is also haltingly, fitfully giving heat and air to the art that simmers inside her. 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 invited into Eric’s home—though not by Eric. She becomes a hesitant ally to his wife and a de facto role model to his adopted daughter. Edie may be the only Black woman young Akila knows.
Irresistibly unruly and strikingly beautiful, razor-sharp and slyly comic, sexually charged and utterly absorbing, Raven Leilani’s Luster is a portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of her life—her hunger, her anger—in a tumultuous era. It is also a haunting, aching description of how hard it is to believe in your own talent and the unexpected influences that bring us into ourselves along the way. —2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Despite Luster being a stream of consciousness from Edie’s point of view, her lack of self-awareness makes it impossible to know her. What motivated her to sleep with everyone in her office? Why does she like to paint? Why did she agree to be the other woman in an open marriage? Her lack of curiosity and courage to ask anything of the other characters leaves their motivations and reasoning up to question as well. What happened in Eric’s marriage that he wanted an open marriage? Why adopt a black child? Why has Eric’s wife invited Edie into her home? Who knows?! Not Edie and surely not us, the reader.
We don’t know who Edie was at the start of the story and have no idea who she is or what she has learned when it ends. The colliding of Eric’s worlds of Edie, his wife, and daughter should have been climatic, the same as when Edie confronts her favorite office lover. But no. Every momentous event that should have been a cathartic dumpster fire release of emotion is left to float in the wind with no conflict or conclusion that would lead to self-awareness and understanding.
Leilani’s wit is indeed razor-sharp and word choice haunting and confusing, but her unmistakable talent as a writer has not transferred to storytelling. The purposefully indifferent tone leaves no emotional resonance or connection to any of the characters. Any adjective or adverb to show emotion is undercut by an oxymoron, making the point mute and the sentiment useless.
Luster is a collection of unruly witticisms that are only a pile of words that don’t connect to tell a meaningful story.-Burn it!