Luster, a novel – mini review

A twenty-something gets fired from her job in NYC at around the same time she’s taken up with a much older married man.

Sound like something you’ve read before?

I don’t think so! SPOILERS FOLLOW

Our protagonist, Evie, first of all, is full of sharp and sometimes funny observations — especially about the people around her.

For example, at some point she realizes that the sole allure of an older man is that he’s survived long enough to pay a mortgage and an electric bill over a period of years.

After losing her job, our down-on-her-luck character gets evicted and ends up staying at her boyfriend’s house, arriving there while he is away to the surprise of his wife and then to his shock and dismay.


An adopted Black teen-aged daughter plays into what follows.

Can’t say I particularly like or admire Evie, but since when is that required?

When I riffed about Hannah Tennant-Moore’s novel, Wreck and Order, HERE, I talked about how I’d rather read a female writer’s descriptions of sex that I cannot relate to (say, S&M) than be exposed for the umpteenth time to the predictable male fantasy version of sex. Well, that holds here.

When the boyfriend punches Evie, for instance, she asks him to do it again. She snoops around the couple’s house when it’s empty and acts the voyeur to the marriage, at least once to their lovemaking, which she secretly photographs. Evie is both exiled and episodically desired. Further, at times her tenancy, at least for the wife, seems predicated on Evie serving as a stand-in “Black person” for advice about the daughter.

It’s head-wagging, for sure.

But don’t let that stop you from reading this gem. The descriptions of how Evie saves the day with the Black daughter’s hair, alone, makes this story worth the ride. And it came as a surprise to me how fully rendered the wife, Rebecca, was. She eventually became interesting in her own right.

Zadie Smith called the novel, “exacting, hilarious, and deadly.”

Brit Bennett wrote, “darkly funny, hilariously moving … a beautiful big-hearted story about intimacy and art that will astound and wound you.”

Did I mention Evie is a painter? I found the descriptions about her process less than convincing, but it fit well with her trying to get her life in focus and with being an observer to a family.

The last thing I’ll say is (and this might sound like a negative critique and I’m not sure it is): this reads like an MFA novel. Maybe someone else can tell me what I mean by that.

13 thoughts on “Luster, a novel – mini review

    1. deemallon

      It’s a quick read, so there’s that. Her writing about desire and sex ought to interest you because of your writing, I think.

  1. Mo Crow

    I have to feel some sort of empathy with the protagonist of a book to bother but have to laugh in saying that as a friend and I were walking in the tunnel under the railway line yesterday I was talking about a book that I really wish I hadn’t read- ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara. A woman walking the other way laughed and said she wish she hadn’t read it either & quipped that they all should have died much sooner!

    1. deemallon

      Don’t know the book you’re referring to but I feel a little different about fictional characters. Unlike-able or different-from me protagonists I can cut a lot of slack for as long as the writing is good. This character is hapless not deviant. Young and a little lost more than anything. I could relate to that about her.

      Updike, Ford, and Roth all have created unlike-able characters that I have nevertheless enjoyed spending time with.

      1. Mo Crow

        another highly recommended book that I had to throw away rather than allow it to keep circulating any further in the world is ‘A Confederacy of Dunce’ by John Kennedy Toole , a writer friend said it was the first book he read that tuaght him that he could love a book without liking the protagonist at all!

      2. Acey

        to me nothing’s more fun than writing (or reading) an unreliable narrator. And they are nearly always by default anti-heros from at least half a readership’s perspective in my experience.

  2. Nancy

    Dee~ Just the set-up sounds intriguing, but not sure it would be my cup of tea. If i read the whole of a book, I get so involved in the characters and happenings, I’m impacted. Some books I feel that way in the moment and then forget what happened in the book entirely! But, those that stay with me can trouble me…the book Mo mentions sounds like it would do me in!
    Last night I stayed up until this morning finishing The Bluest Eye…it is still with me hours later, not shook free. You may like it Dee, if you’ve not read it before. Or maybe Acey would too.
    I’d be happy to send it along to anyone, I don’t need to keep it.

    1. Nancy

      Okay, so after reading/commenting here, I look up and J has picked a movie, which I must have remembered the name or beginning from the long ago recesses of my mind…
      I began telling him about a book that so disturbed me by an action taken very early in, that I stood up, walked out to the trashcan and threw it away! Only time that has happened, ever.
      Sure enough, a few minutes later, that scene pops up on the tv, even J turned the channel immediately. He was will to go back to it, but not me.
      So, I searched for the name of the movie…yep, it was a book, it was that book.
      Others may be able to read this kind of book, but not me. Funny that trashed book was made into a movie and sells for $113.00 now!
      I’m not sure I could read the book Grace mentioned today either.

      1. Nancy

        Oops, thought that would just be a link, not a giant picture! lol Wonder why that happened?
        However, you can see by the cover (if you know me at all) why it would have caught my attention! haha

      2. deemallon

        I think I misdescribed this book. It’s mostly witty and interesting, even when the character is making off decisions.


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