Luster by Raven Leilani
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Luster is an undoubtedly entertaining novel, particularly if you're the type who loves to see things crash and burn. Edie's life is an absolute train wreck. She makes poor decision after poor decision and doesn't seem at all interested in trying to course correct. The woman's a hot mess. The kind of mess that some may find relatable, but most would judge harshly. Edie is quite a character, and I could easily see her story as an indie movie or limited series starring Sasheer Zamata.
This dark comedy veers decidedly on the darker side. There were brief moments of eye-popping humor. But there were way more "WTF?!" moments - moments so heavy with dysfunction, so laced with trauma that you can't help but squirm a bit. Edie's a highly sexual tortured artist whose libido-driven decision-making leads her to homelessness and eventually forces her to live with her married lover and their adopted Black child. Her lover, Eric, may have a race fetish, but most definitely has a lot of issues. His wife Rebecca is a cold, controlling, Type A personality who is clearly unsatisfied with her family life. And poor, pre-pubescent Akilah has to manage their dysfunction while also struggling with her racial identity. Everyone in this novel needed a hug and a good dose of therapy.
Raven Leilani's writing style took a while for me to settle into. There were moments where Leilani's words were like poetry, subtle yet powerful. We were smack dab in the middle of Edie's mind; the reader is made privy to every thought. While this gave us great insight into Edie's layered complexities, at times it became a bit too much. Leiliani over-employs the use of run-on sentences in order to convey Edie's chaotic stream of consciousness, and sometimes the train would veer so far off the tracks that my eyes would glaze over. Some chapters felt exhausting to get through.
That being said, I never once considered giving up on the book altogether. I needed to see where things went with Edie, Eric, Rebecca, and Akilah. I needed to see if there would be any respite from the chaos. I needed to see if Edie ever got her shit together. This is all to say that I was hooked, even if something in me was resisting. In the end, my heart was warmed by witnessing the unfolding of Edie and Akilah's friendship; that was the bright glimmer of hope that led me through the novel's darkness.
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