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Luster
Cover of Luster
Luster
A Novel
Borrow Borrow

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
WINNER of the NBCC John Leonard Prize, the Kirkus Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
One of Barack Obama's Favorite Books of 2020
A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: NPR, The New York Times Book Review, O Magazine, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times, Glamour, Shondaland, Boston Globe, and many more!
"So delicious that it feels illicit . . . Raven Leilani's first novel reads like summer: sentences like ice that crackle or melt into a languorous drip; plot suddenly, wildly flying forward like a bike down a hill." —Jazmine Hughes, The New York Times Book Review
No one wants what no one wants.
And how do we even know what we want? How do we know we're ready to take it?
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.
"An irreverent intergenerational tale of race and class that's blisteringly smart and fan-yourself sexy." —Michelle Hart, O: The Oprah Magazine

AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
WINNER of the NBCC John Leonard Prize, the Kirkus Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the Dylan Thomas Prize, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award
One of Barack Obama's Favorite Books of 2020
A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: NPR, The New York Times Book Review, O Magazine, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles Times, Glamour, Shondaland, Boston Globe, and many more!
"So delicious that it feels illicit . . . Raven Leilani's first novel reads like summer: sentences like ice that crackle or melt into a languorous drip; plot suddenly, wildly flying forward like a bike down a hill." —Jazmine Hughes, The New York Times Book Review
No one wants what no one wants.
And how do we even know what we want? How do we know we're ready to take it?
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.
"An irreverent intergenerational tale of race and class that's blisteringly smart and fan-yourself sexy." —Michelle Hart, O: The Oprah Magazine

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Awards-
About the Author-
  • Raven Leilani's work has been published in Granta, The Yale Review, McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Conjunctions, The Cut, and New England Review, among other publications. Leilani received her MFA from NYU and was an Axinn Foundation Writer-in-Residence. Luster is her first novel.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 1, 2020
    Leilani debuts with a moving examination of a young black woman’s economic desperation and her relationship to violence. Edie is a 20-something low-level employee at a New York city publishing house. She paints on the side, but not often or well enough to comfortably call herself an artist, and she’s infatuated with Eric Walker, a married white man twice her age she met online, with whom she explores his thirst for aggressive domination (“I think I’d like to hit you,” he says; she lets him) and is caught breaking the rules of Eric’s open marriage (no going to his house). After Edie loses her job, Eric’s wife, Rebecca, invites her to stay with them in New Jersey. The arrangement functions partly to vex Eric and partly to support Akila, the Walkers’ adopted black daughter. An inevitable betrayal cracks the household’s veneer of civility, and suddenly Edie must make new arrangements. She does so in earnest, but not before a horrific scene in which Edie and Akila are victims of police brutality. Edie’s ability to navigate the complicated relationships with the Walkers exhibits Leilani’s mastery of nuance, and the narration is perceptive, funny, and emotionally charged. Edie’s frank, self-possessed voice will keep a firm grip on readers all the way to the bitter end.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from June 15, 2020
    After losing her day job, a troubled young artist finds herself living with her much-older lover, his inscrutable wife, and their adopted daughter in Leilani's electric debut. Edie meets Eric online: She's a 23-year-old black art school dropout with a mouse-infested apartment in Bushwick and an ill-fitting administrative job at a children's publishing imprint; he's a white archivist in an open marriage and twice her age. "The age discrepancy doesn't bother me," she explains, keenly aware of the dynamics of these types of exchanges, his stability and experience for the redemptive power of her youth. Of course, she has been curious about the wife, but it's only after Eric goes silent that she wanders into his unlocked house and comes face to face with Rebecca, who knows who she is and cooly invites her to stay for dinner. Afterward, Rebecca leaves her a voicemail: "I enjoyed meeting you, let's do that again." And so it begins. Newly fired from the publishing house for being "sexually inappropriate," Edie is working for a delivery app when she gets an order for lobster bisque and a bone saw delivered to a VA hospital. The customer is Rebecca. The bone saw is because she's a medical examiner. The reason Rebecca then takes Edie home with her...can't be reduced into straightforward facts. Edie's role in their household is perpetually tenuous and always unspoken: It is clear to her that has been brought in, in part, "on the absurd presumption" she'd know what to do with their traumatized daughter, Akila, "simply because we are both black." So she bonds with Akila. Sometimes, she cleans. She is neither Rebecca's friend nor her rival. Regular envelopes with money appear on her dresser in irregular amounts, a cross between an allowance and a paycheck. And all the while, the dynamics among the four of them keep shifting, an unstable ballet of race, sex, and power. Leilani's characters act in ways that often defy explanation, and that is part of what makes them so alive and so mesmerizing: Whose behavior, in real life, can be reduced to simple cause and effect? Sharp, strange, propellant--and a whole lot of fun.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from July 1, 2020
    The first time she meets him IRL, artist/publishing professional Edie and her new paramour, Eric, spend a sweaty day at an amusement park. "After the first two rides, I am enjoying myself, and not just because dying means I won't have to pay my student loans." Their intense online connection, both sexual and emotional, was no ruse. They abide by the rules of Eric's open marriage, until Eric's silence impels Edie from Brooklyn to his cushy New Jersey home and the lukewarm reception of his wife, Rebecca. Somewhat uncomfortably attending the couple's anniversary party that night, Edie meets their adopted daughter, Akila, who's surprised to see another Black person there. As the summer wears on, Edie loses her job and her apartment, and moves in with the family, finding something approaching camaraderie with Rebecca, and becoming a companion for Akila. Leilani's radiant debut belongs to its brilliant, fully formed narrator. Old soul Edie has an otherworldly way of seeing the world and reflecting it back to readers, peppering experiences of past and current despair with acceptance and humor but never sacrificing depth, of which her story has miles. A must for seekers of strongly narrated, original fiction.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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    Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Luster
A Novel
Raven Leilani
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