Luster depicts the warped relationships between Edie, a 23-year-old Black woman from New York, her older lover, his wife and their Black adopted child. Edie, newly fired from her publishing job, moves in with the couple, takes their fentanyl, flat-irons their daughter’s hair and paints studies of them with varying degrees of success. Her interactions with others feel sadomasochistic. She leans wilfully into tension, aware of the gap between her behaviour and social norms: ‘I … remember that I should be embarrassed.’ Her self-analysis is razor sharp but her messy life is a reminder that self-awareness isn’t enough to stop you making terrible decisions.
This sparkling first novel feels honest even in its more extreme moments. Leilani’s deftly employed deadpan tone is perversely comforting in a normalising, ‘we’re all mad here’ fashion. That emotional neutrality, combined with a sense of absurdity, gives the novel teeth and pushes fictional clichés about mistresses and marriages into