book review: Luster by Raven Leilani

LUSTER by Raven Leilani
FSG, 2020

I guess it’s natural to be slightly underwhelmed by a book that’s gotten as much hype as Luster has.  And it absolutely does deserve the hype, in a lot of ways.  Raven Leilani’s voice and writing style are spectacular, and so is her characterization of protagonist Edie.  This is very much a “disaster women” book (i.e., a subgenre of literary fiction about 20-something year-old women having a lot of casual sex and making terrible life decisions) but it’s also its own thing, refreshing both in voice and structure. 

My main issue with this book isn’t even something it did wrong, per se – but about 40% through the book it took a turn that I didn’t want it to take, and we ended up spending the rest of the book in a situation that I found much less interesting than the one that had been presented to us at the beginning.  I didn’t find Rebecca to be a particularly convincing figure and her dynamic with Edie really failed to engage or move me.  Even less interesting to me was Eric, Edie’s love interest, an older, married, white man (Edie is a Black woman, and much younger than Eric – it’s a dynamic that facilitates moments of sharp insight on Leilani’s part but Eric himself is something of a wet blanket).  It’s Edie herself that holds this novel together (she’s a realistic, sympathetic, compelling figure); it’s the circumstances she finds herself in that I felt didn’t ultimately live up to their narrative potential.

I initially gave this 4 stars but I waited a few weeks to write this review and in that time this book has sort of faded in my estimation and I haven’t really thought about it since putting it down, so that’s never an amazing sign.  I think this is a promising debut in a lot of ways and Raven Leilani is absolutely an author I’ll be keeping an eye on, but this didn’t quite do what I wanted it to do for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and FSG for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

17 thoughts on “book review: Luster by Raven Leilani

  1. you are the first I read to give a 3 star review and I usually wait for the hype to disappear, that’s usually when voices like yours (mixed reviews) emerge …

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It does frustrate me when books take turns I don’t want them to take! I always worry it’s an unfair criticism (because it’s basically saying I wish the author had written a different book) but as you say, it can be due to the author making less interesting choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    • (And an even later comment…) But yes exactly! I ultimately wanted this to be a different book with the same characters which is partially a Me Thing and I do think partially bad decision making on the author’s part…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I so agree! I think I liked it a bit more but also thought the second half was a lot weaker. Edie was by far the most interesting character and I would have liked for the weird marriage drama to not eclipse her journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting! I’m still aiming to pick this one up before the end of the year, but I’ve seen primarily a ton of hype for it so it’s helpful to tone down my expectations a bit. Glad to see it still sounds worth the read, but sorry it didn’t do more for you! Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

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