Luster by Raven Leilani

Luster is a novel about a young woman trying to survive in New York City who finds herself entangled with a family after she has an affair with Eric, a white man whose wife has agreed to an open marriage. Edie is twenty-three, works half-heartedly in a publishing office, lives in a run down, infested apartment, and sleeps with the wrong men. After a virtual flirtation with Eric, a middle-aged white archivist, they meet, and go on a series of dates. He’s in an open marriage and his wife has set rules, but Edie finds herself drawn into the family’s world, not only Eric but his wife Rebecca and their adopted black daughter who has no one to help her navigate race.

This book is a gripping, sharp dive into Edie’s life, cleverly providing commentary on the modern world and the realities of being young and black and having no direction in life, but also unfolding a complicated and weird interpersonal situation with ever changing nuances and rules, as Edie ends up in the family’s home. There’s some really fantastic images and lines, like her beating a pregnant woman to a subway seat or her experiences doing gig economy deliveries, and Edie is a vividly imagined character, from whom you get glimpses of backstory but mostly stay in the present. She can be harsh, but also sweet, especially as she attempts to make Eric and Rebecca’s adopted daughter like her by playing video games and engaging with her fandom interests.

Luster is a brilliantly observed, well written novel about being young, about navigating sexual and racial politics, and about finding a place to be, even just for a while.