I received this book for free from the TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
Published by Hogarth on May 9, 2017
Genres: Adult, Contemporary, Contemporary Women, Emotions & Feelings, Family, Friendship, Marriage & Divorce, Noir
Source: TLC Book Tours
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A sinister, sexy noir about art, motherhood, and the intensity of female friendships, set in the posh hills above Los Angeles, from the New York Times bestselling author of California
High in the Hollywood Hills, writer Lady Daniels has decided to take a break from her husband. Left alone with her children, she’s going to need a hand taking care of her young son if she’s ever going to finish her memoir. In response to a Craigslist ad, S arrives, a magnetic young artist who will live in the secluded guest house out back, care for Lady’s toddler, Devin, and keep a watchful eye on her older, teenage son, Seth. S performs her day job beautifully, quickly drawing the entire family into her orbit, and becoming a confidante for Lady.
But in the heat of the summer, S’s connection to Lady’s older son takes a disturbing, and possibly destructive, turn. And as Lady and S move closer to one another, the glossy veneer of Lady’s privileged life begins to crack, threatening to expose old secrets that she has been keeping from her family. Meanwhile, S is protecting secrets of her own, about her real motivation for taking the job. S and Lady are both playing a careful game, and every move they make endangers the things they hold most dear.
Darkly comic, twisty and tense, this mesmerizing new novel defies expectation and proves Edan Lepucki to be one of the most talented and exciting voices of her generation.
“In Woman No. 17, Lepucki has crafted an intricate, gripping story of people behaving very badly. You will want to race to the end to see what happens, but don’t cheat yourself. This book deserves to be savored –gorgeously written, darkly comic, smart and thrilling.”– CYNTHIA D’APRIX SWEENEY, New York Times bestselling author of The Nest
“Woman No. 17 fizzes with references to contemporary culture and sparks with larger, timeless questions: Where is the line between performance and identity? What separates life from art? And can we ever escape the gravitational pull of our parents? Edan Lepucki shows herself to be a sharp-eyed chronicler of our modern world.”– CELESTE NG, New York Times bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You
“Woman No. 17 is a provocative and timely meditation on art, authenticity and representation in a digital age. The increasingly gripping plot suggests the outcomes of a thriller, but at the crucial moment the novel swerves toward subtly profound truths about our capacity for self-sabotage and self-reinvention, the power of trauma to shape lives, and the inexorable gravity of family secrets. Lepucki’s smooth prose and deft handling of point of view reveal a writer fully in command.”— MATTHEW THOMAS, New York Times bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves
“Taut as a thriller (with plenty of sex and secrets), Woman No. 17 raises big questions about identity, art, ethics, parenthood, and more. In Edan Lepucki’s hands, the philosophical is transformed into a page turner; I don’t know how she does it.” – RUMAAN ALAM, author of Rich & Pretty
Forty-something Lady Daniels is recently separated from her ten years older husband and now needs help taking care of their toddler son so she can focus on writing a memoir that focuses on her life with now eighteen-year-old non-verbal son Seth. She places an ad for a live-in nanny for the summer, and Esther Fowler responds to the Craiglist ad and is the first interview. While Lady doesn’t check things out too deeply, she feels that she can trust Esther after they hit it off right away. Lady hires her after son Devin takes to her immediately without consulting practical husband Karl, which complicates their marriage further. Told in both Lady and S’s points of view, you get both of their troubled histories with men and their mothers, and you definitely see how this shapes them into women who aren’t models of good behavior in the present day.
Lady’s under contract to write this book, but she’s blocked and having a hard time taking care of her sons and a home since she asked Karl to move out on a trial basis. Even though Karl isn’t Seth’s father, she’s feeling betrayed by the closeness between the two of them, and even the relationship between Karl’s artist twin sister Kat and Seth, so she’s trying to distance everyone–even if she’s failing miserably at controlling everything around her. But introducing Esther–who now only wants to be called “S”–is a blessing and a curse. Lady hasn’t always been the most maternal with her second son, Devin, and she’s soon a little jealous of S. She also finds out that she’s almost always the last person to know what Seth is up to–at school and in his personal life. He’s feeling smothered, and he’s lashing out in the only ways he can gain control. While Lady had feelings of abandonment throughout her life, she was definitely holding on to Seth too tight while pushing everyone else away.
While Lady struggles with her guilt about motherhood and her past relationships with Seth’s father and her own mother, S has her own complicated relationships with her mother and an ex-boyfriend who thought she wasn’t enough of an artist for him to take seriously, so he dumped her. When her last big art project failed, she’s decided to take on a new one: to become her mother from the early 1990s and take on the same job: a nanny. S struggles with moving between being Esther, being Kathy (her mother), and being an entirely new person around this family. Kathy is bold, unapologetic, has no fashion sense, has no boundaries, and drinks way too much when she’s not on duty. S also starts a new art project while she’s doing this one, which further spirals her behavior into out of control categories. I really couldn’t relate to S at all. She was of the train wreck variety, with an alcoholic, self-centered mother and a father who thought Esther could do no wrong. It’s amazing that almost no one was hurt with her around.
I give Woman No. 17 a four out of five. The Southern California setting was very beautiful, and I could picture it easily even though I’ve never been there. This book was one that I kept reading and reading, just waiting for all of the different threads to meet and explode. The aftermath wasn’t as bad as I was hoping, but that’s true in real life as well. Most lies came to light, so the ending was satisfying. The novel is really about women and how they can sabotage their relationships with family and friends, and especially how your past shapes you in the future whether you want it to or not. The writing is excellent and I really wanted to see how everyone ended up, even though it featured two women who are just so unhealthily so self-focused, so self-destructive and irresponsible. One was barely an adult and the one that was an adult didn’t act like one until the very end. Ultimately, this is the story of two women who become their mothers: one on accident and one by design.
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About Edan Lepucki
EDAN LEPUCKI is the New York Times bestselling author of the novel California as well as the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me. A contributing editor and staff writer at the Millions, she has also published fiction and nonfiction in McSweeney’s, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Cut, and elsewhere. She is the founder of Writing Workshops Los Angeles.
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Edan Lepucki’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for WOMAN No. 17:
Monday, May 8th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, May 9th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, May 10th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, May 11th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Tuesday, May 16th: Kahakai Kitchen
Wednesday, May 17th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, May 18th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Monday, May 22nd: Art Books Coffee
Tuesday, May 23rd: Palmer’s Page Turners
Wednesday, May 24th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, May 25th: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, May 30th: SJ2B House of Books
Wednesday, May 31st: Fuelled by Fiction