Luster by Raven Leilani audiobook review – expert reading of a dazzling debut

Ariel Blake narrates the US author’s novel, a candid exploration of race, class and power in the city

We first meet sardonic New Yorker Edie sitting in the office talking dirty on a dating app with a man who says he is in an open marriage. For Edie, who is 23, the product of a difficult childhood and one of only two Black editors at her publishing firm, casual sex is a way to distract herself from her myriad disappointments. And so she begins an affair with the white fortysomething archivist Eric, which is complicated when his wife, Rebecca, decides to get to know her too. When Edie is fired and can no longer afford the rent on her cockroach-infested apartment, Rebecca invites her into the couple’s smart suburban home where they live with their adopted daughter, Akila. This, it appears, is done partly in the hope that Edie will provide guidance for Akila, who is on the brink of adolescence and is the only Black child in their white neighbourhood.

American writer Raven Leilani’s debut novel is a dazzling and often uncomfortable exploration of race, class, power and the thankless grind that is being young and broke in the city. Ariel Blake narrates, expertly inhabiting Edie’s knowing and analytical tone, and revelling in the writer’s winding sentences and caustic one-liners. Edie describes Rebecca as “sexy in the way a triangle can be sexy”. At finding herself alone for the first time with Akila, she observes: “There are times when I interact with kids and recall my abortion fondly.” It’s a classic Leilanian line, blending trauma, humour and unblinking candour.

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