Saturday, August 15, 2020

Book Review: "Luster" by Raven Leilani

Luster signals the arrival of a talented new voice in fiction, Raven Leilani.

Edie is in her 20s, barely eking out an existence in a roach-infested apartment and working at a job she’s good at, but puts minimal effort into. She fills a lot of time having sex with strangers and coworkers, and occasionally finds inspiration enough to express her feelings through art.

"...I cannot help feeling that I am at the end of a fluctuation that originated with a single butterfly. I mean, with one half degree of difference, everything I want could be mine. I am good, but not good enough, which is worse than simply being bad. It is almost."

Then she meets Eric online. Eric is 23 years her senior, White, and married, though he is in an open marriage. Their relationship, which moves in fits and starts, develops in spite of the rules set by Eric’s wife, Rebecca.

When Edie loses her job, Rebecca invites her to move in with them. The dynamics of her interactions with Eric and Rebecca shift and change, and Edie becomes a kind of role model to the couple’s adopted Black daughter, Akila, because Edie is one of the few Black people Akila knows.

Luster is a story of how lonely and incomplete many feel in their lives, even while they’re connecting with others. It provides insightful commentary on racial, sexual, and economic tensions, within the workplace and within relationships.

Leilani is a beautiful storyteller. So many times I was mesmerized by a quote or phrase or description. But while I loved the way she wrote, I didn’t enjoy the story itself very much. I felt, like the characters did, as if I were missing a connection somewhere.

Still, I can’t wait to see what she does next!

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