I feel like Luster is another installment in a series of books that I’m gonna call Dysfunctional Women Being Dysfunctional—which theoretically, I’m all for, but in actuality I’ve been disappointed by more often than not, this novel included. (Update: I ended up writing a whole post about Messy/Dysfunctional women in literary fiction.)
Luster is Leilani’s debut book, and there are definitely glimmers of sharp, wry writing to be found here. One of my favourites: “In the time we have been talking, my imagination has run wild. Based on his liberal use of the semicolon, I just assumed this date would go well.” (lol)
That being said, I can’t really say that I enjoyed this novel.
This is a novel that is immensely bogged down by its own moroseness. The main character, Edie, undergoes humiliation after humiliation with no break and nothing even close to resembling happy to temper that humiliation. I think the novel articulates its own spirit when Edie thinks,
“…the debris around the drain not enough to deter me from lying down in the tub and being dramatic, humiliation being such that it sometimes requires a private performance, which I give myself, and emerge from the shower in the next stage of hurt feelings.”
And that’s exactly it: reading this novel feels like reading a performance of humiliation (“performance” in the sense that it’s a presentation of humiliation, not in the sense that that humiliation is performative or “fake,” somehow). And the writing compounds this performance to the novel’s detriment. Leilani’s writing is simultaneously too verbose and too clipped, both over- and underwritten: at times she elaborates on moments that don’t need to be elaborated on, and at others she breezes through monumental emotional moments as if they were nothing. It felt like the novel was working at cross-purposes from what I wanted.
Of course, what all of this means is, this book was written in a style that wasn’t to my taste. And I think that there’s definitely people for whom this book’s style will work. If you liked Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Miranda Popkey’s Topics of Conversation, or Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times, you’ll like Luster. I will also point out the fact that Luster is an ownvoices novel told from the perspective of a Black woman, whereas all those books I just mentioned are from white women’s perspectives.
Thanks so much Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing me with an e-ARC of this via NetGalley!