Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki Book Review

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki Book Review

Author Lady Daniels has a terrible case of writer’s block and is taking a break from her husband. Alone with her children and needing time to complete her memoir, Lady decides to hire a nanny to look after her toddler and to keep an eye on her teenage son, Seth.

A young artist by the name of “S”, short for Esther, answers her ad. After a recklessly brief interview, S makes herself at home in the poolside cottage at the edge of Lady’s expansive Hollywood Hills property. Before long, Lady and S are sharing their time, far too many drinks, and become each other’s closest confidant.

Lady is a helicopter mom to her eldest son, Seth. Seth is mute, not deaf, not autistic, and as he declares, “not a genius either.” He is the offspring of a previous marriage and while he may feel a brotherly attachment to his younger sibling, Devin, Lady struggles to find the same bond. Devin feels loud and needy in comparison to the quiet years she and Seth spent alone before she met her current husband, Devin’s father. Her feeling of ownership over Seth adds tension to her and Seth’s already strained relationship, but she is unable to make herself stop.

S has her own reasons for accepting the nanny position: attempting to live as an impersonation of her destructive mother and calling it “art”. She changes her makeup, her clothes, and her behavior in order to fit the mold. Her mother was a drinker, Esther was not. Esther was calculating and organized, her mother was loose and unsteady. How long can S keep up this twisted charade? Falling too deep into her mother’s psyche, S develops an unhealthy attachment to Lady’s teenage mute son, Seth.

Old secrets rise to the surface as Lady and S get deeper into their friendship and the careful lives they’ve constructed come to a staggering halt.

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki Book Review

It’s clear Edan Lepucki has a fascinating grasp on the dark intricacies of attachment theory. What does it mean to be a mother – perhaps even a bad one – and how much can children forgive? Her secondary thematic exploration in Woman No. 17 is art and what some experimentalists will sacrifice in the name of process.

This delightfully strange work of fiction is deceptively marketed as a thriller and leaves the reader waiting for the other shoe to drop. I expected a more shocking climax, but it does not come. Instead, this book is more a character exploration than a page-turning mystery.

Lady and S are two ships afloat a sea of inexplicably bad decisions. At times, the urge to shake them until they saw sense was overwhelming. But just as you can’t avoid stealing a glance at a road side accident, you can’t keep yourself from watching Lady and S as their mistakes take hold. They are a destructive set that have refused to mend old wounds, preferring instead to rip them open.

Of all the complex characters in Woman No. 17, teenage son Seth was my favorite. If only because I could never get a complete read on him. He seemed tender, thoughtful, and kind only to surprise me with bouts of crude behavior, powerful manipulation, and mysterious motives.

What would you change?

I would not change anything about the work itself, but I would change how it is described to buyers. Nothing makes a reader unhappier than expecting one thing from a book and getting another. 

Would you recommend this?

Woman No. 17 is perfect for readers who enjoy dark humor and love to watch a good train wreck as it crashes off the tracks. This is for readers who enjoy character driven novels as opposed to plot. Lady and S are strangely irresistible in all their wrongdoings, mediocre and otherwise.

It appears that other readers would agree. At the time of this posting Woman No. 17 enjoys a 4-star rating on Amazon and a 3.5-star rating on Goodreads.

The Bottom Line:

Told in increasingly brazen alternating perspectives, Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki is a deliciously discouraging read full of dark characters in the cinematic landscape of the Hollywood Hills. Lady and S are irresistible in all their strange, deep-seated melancholy. 

LENGTH: 320 Pages
PUBLISHER: Hogarth (May 9, 2017)

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I hope you have enjoyed this Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki Book Review. Keep scrolling for a pro/con list and rating breakdown.

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki Book Review: Old secrets rise to the surface and the careful lives they’ve constructed come to a staggering halt.
Out of 10

Good Things

  • Strange, dark characters
  • Cinematic writing
  • Hidden motivations
  • Intriguing thematic poignancy

Bad Things

  • Sold as a thriller
  • Can be slow at times

The Breakdown

Writing Style

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