Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
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.
“Strange, hilarious, important.”—Bethanne Patrick, The Washington Post
“An emotional rollercoaster that will have you on the verge of tears or in stitches with laughter.”—Sian Babish, The Chicago Tribune
“Exacting, hilarious, and deadly . . . A writer of exhilarating freedom and daring.”—Zadie Smith, Harper’s Bazaar
“Narrated with fresh and wry jadedness, Edie’s every disappointment [is] rendered with a comic twist . . . Edie’s life is a mess, her past is filled with sorrow, she’s wasting her precious youth, and yet, reading about it all is a whole lot of fun.”—Chloe Schama, Vogue
“What stands out here is Leilani’s prose, which is breathless, frantic, and reads like a Twitter wit grew legs and an IRL identity.”—Hillary Kelly, Vulture
“Mercilessly funny and sharp, Raven Leilani’s Luster is unexpected and utterly fascinating.”—Megan DiTrolio, Marie Claire
"Darkly funny with wicked insight . . . This keenly observed, dynamic debut is so cutting, it almost stings."—Lauren Puckett, Elle
“Electric, heralding a singular new literary voice . . . Provocative and surprising. Edie is both emblematic of a generation of detached, fiercely intelligent yet hopelessly drifting young women, who yearn for something more.”—Kristen Iversen, Refinery29
“Blistering . . . thrums with observational humor . . . Luster is not a novel concerned with romantic drama. It’s all about attention—why we crave it and what forms it takes. Leilani carefully pulls the strings of Edie, Rebecca, Eric and Akila, revealing how lonely they all are . . . Unsettling and surreal.”—Annabel Gutterman, Time
"So assured, so confident, so astute, and so devastatingly funny, it leaves you reeling . . . Leilani’s brutally accurate observations and rapier wit make this novel a singular, mordant delight. I know it’s a cliché, but I really cannot recommend this book highly enough."—Tomi Obaro, Buzzfeed News
“Wildly beguiling . . . [Raven Leilani is] a phenomenal writer, her dense, dazzling paragraphs shot through with self-effacing wit and psychological insight.”—Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“Vibrant, spiky . . . Leilani is a master . . . a major new talent . . . Luster isn’t just a sardonic book, but a powerful one about emotional transformation.”—Mark Athitakis, USA Today
“This debut novel from powerhouse writer Raven Leilani . . . deftly subverts the white gaze while also crafting an unforgettable protagonist. But the real fire here is Leilani’s writing. Her sentences are gorgeous, and both the prose and the content will make you sweat.”—Sarah Neilson, Shondaland
“Luster hooked us from the opening sex scene . . . Charged and hypnotic, Luster is poised to become one of the books that defines what it’s like to be young in this moment.”—goop.com
“The narrator of Luster . . . is the fierce, unruly antidote to what Jess Bergman called the ‘remote avatars of contemporary malaise’—she is not cool, nor detached, nor noncommittal, but absolutely bursting with thoughts and feelings and desires, some of which often spill over and make a mess, or a scene, or a bonfire. Edie talks shit but also takes it—she’s hilariously caustic about the world around her, but her criticism never feels empty. I loved every minute.”—Emily Temple, Lit Hub
“A rocket-paced, sensual fever dream of sex, trauma, relationships and conflicting perceptions . . . Luster is intoxicating and surprising, never letting readers settle into recognizable patterns. Leilani has crafted an unforgettable novel about a young woman making her own way.”—Julia Kastner, Shelf Awareness
"This novel is ridiculously good: gorgeous, dark, and funny, with sentences that'll wreck you. I will follow this author anywhere she wants to take me."—Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House
“A beguiling fever dream of a novel, shot through with wistfulness, humor, and a kind of breathless, furious verve. You’ll find it impossible to put down.”—Ling Ma, author of Severance
“A darkly funny, hilariously moving debut from a stunning new voice. Luster follows the unforgettable Edie, a hapless young woman suffocating under her own loneliness, whose caustic observations made me laugh out loud and gasp in recognition. Raven Leilani crafts a beautiful, bighearted story about intimacy and art that will astound and wound you. I couldn’t put this one down.”—Brit Bennett, author of The Vanishing Half
"There are pages in this book so good they burn your fingers."—Garth Greenwell
“The most thrilling thing I’ve read in months.”—Stephanie Danler
“Luster is the best debut novel of the year. It glitters, it pulses, it lives! Simultaneously full of pain and laughter.”—Emma Straub
“Raven Leilani's sentences pulse and writhe and shimmer and gut-punch. Above all they tell the truth, even when it hurts.”—Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House
“The narrative voice of this startling novel is layered, complex, pitch-black comic, and deadly earnest, even ardent in its will to sift through the chaos and idiocy of our madhouse culture and find some glimpse of human reality. Raven Leilani is intellectually supple and steely at the same time; she thinks and perceives blessedly outside any kind of norm. She has made a truly lustrous piece of art.”—Mary Gaitskill, author of This Is Pleasure
“An utterly strange and beautiful book, at once grab-your-gut visceral and the work of a razor-sharp intellect. The sentences are simply virtuosic.”—C. Pam Zhang, author of How Much of These Hills Is Gold
“Hilarious, honest, bursting with desire and sharp insight, Luster is absolutely captivating. I didn’t so much read it, as gulp it down. There’s so much to learn here, so much to admire. Leilani is an irreverent, impeccable stylist—a voice we need right now.”—Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
“In Luster, Raven Leilani has created a character unlike any other in recent fiction. A slacker black queen, a depressive painter, a damn funny woman. The narrator of this novel tells us of her history and her present life in hypnotic language that is a pleasure to read. Leilani is such a talented writer, I rushed to the end of every outrageous sentence to figure out how she would pull it off.”—Kaitlyn Greenidge, author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman
“Raven Leilani is a writer of unusual daring, with a voice that is unique and fully formed. There is humor, intelligence, emotion, and power in her work. I cannot think of a writer better suited to capture our moment.”—Katie Kitamura, author of A Separation
“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, propellent—and a whole lot of fun.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“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.”—Booklist (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light. He is uptown processing a new bundle of microfiche and I am downtown handling corrections for a new Labrador...