Raven Leilani possesses an offhand brilliance. Her prose flows smoothly, naturally; seemingly without effort. As a writer, I’m hyperaware of the hard work that goes into preparing a book for publication. But as I was reading this novel–nay, experiencing it–never once did I consider how many edits Luster must have endured to arrive at the completed stage.
Over a two-day period, I immersed myself in this modern tale of a doom-and-gloom, problematic young person. The voice of narrator Edie is unforgettable. She’s harsh, but in a manner that’s not necessarily off-putting. At times, however, I wanted to shake some sense into her. Sure, she’s young, but why must she be so foolish?
Then again…I was talking with my friend the other day about what nincompoops we were during our twenties. Still hung over from the perceived invincibility of our teenage selves, it seemed inevitable we’d push the envelope even further into the territory of “a step away from certain death.” We were often drunk and/or high. Smoked our lungs into the danger zone. Searched for purpose in the midst of the party. Allowed our romantic partners take advantage of us…laid ourselves out as doormats. Developed imbalanced friendships, jumped from job to to job, sometimes bed to bed. We grew numb; apathetic. Self-loathing.
So, when I reflect on my post-college youth, I notice some uneasy similarities between Edie and the younger version of me. The lack of motivation, the constant depression, self-love, poor interpersonal connections and poorer decisions on who to date…the list goes on. Edie is bound and determined to wallow in her own apathy. At the same time, she’s won’t fully acknowledge her self-destructive capabilities, other than to tell the reader, in a matter-of-fact way, what she does to prove she’s alive. There’s a yearning in her for happiness/contentedness, but she thinks she doesn’t deserve it. Her upbringing and traumatic life experiences exacerbate her tendency to disappear into her worst self.
As a result, she engages in a cringeworthy, precarious relationship with the least deserving man ever, and falls into an odd, unbalanced dynamic with his wife and daughter. Bizarre events ensue. I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for her to either find her wings, or plunge into an apocalyptic tailspin. For the sake of keeping the spoilers at bay, I will only say that, by the end of the book, there is a suggestion of an open ending, yet also a resolution that feels more authentic than your average wrap-it-up-with-a-bow conclusion.
In short, this was a terrific book (likely the best I’ve read all year), stuffed with humorous zingers, apt social observations, and blistering clarity. Weeks after reading Luster, the narrator’s voice remains firmly ensconced within my memory. In wide-eyed awe, I anticipate Raven Leilani’s next novel.