Luster by Raven Leilani

Updated: Sep 19


Xolo Score 5/5


Luster follows the story of Edie, an awkward but charming 23-year-old editorial assistant and aspiring Black artist who is trying her best to keep her precarious life afloat in New York City. Edie meets and begins to date Eric, a white man in his forties, in an open marriage. But when Edie is fired from her job at a children's publishing house, she finds herself living in Eric's home and developing a relationship with Eric's wife Rebecca and their adopted Black teenage daughter Akila. Raven Leilani offers a sharp character study in the shifting power dynamics between sex, race, and relationships.


*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

With Edie at the forefront of this story, we get a wonderfully flawed and relatable character. Through Edie, Leilani is intentional about displaying traditionally unlikeable emotions like rage, obsession, and self-doubt to prove that we are all worth love and acceptance regardless of our uglier tendencies. We also get to explore these complexities in Edie's artistic journey that matures through the wild events of developing a relationship with Rebecca and Akila. Edie's art is messy, grief-filled, chaotic, and raw. It is a level of authenticity that most of us are too afraid to expose, even in our closest circles.


Leilani's writing and plot structure deviate from the traditional. Her writing leaves the reader with many questions and demanding more, but Leilani feels no obligation to explain herself and her characters. She wants us to understand that our desire to be a puzzle piece that fits perfectly into the jigsaw of life drives us toward finding unexplainable pleasure in our self-destruction.


Like most people in their twenties, Edie invites many complicated things, especially because she is a Black woman navigating a lot of white spaces. A prime example is how she tries to be an independent piece of Eric’s open marriage, just to become part of his family once she loses her job. Edie does her best to find a temporary place for herself, work on some art, and find a job. Her circumstance becomes a very profound commentary on how identity is dependent on how well we can convince others of perceived stability or resilience and that we’re not just one light breeze away from collapsing.


Luster lifted the veil of likeability and decorum and remind us that authenticity is messy, but it's what allows us to move forward. We eagerly await more stories by Raven Leilani.



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