Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Woman No. 17

Edan Lepucki

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.

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New York Times bestselling author Edan Lepucki's Woman No. 17 "reads like a Hollywood Hills film noir."  Seattle Times
 
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.


Advance Galley Reviews

I’ve been thinking about this book since I finished it, which was in the beginning of May. Yes, it has taken me a while to get to this review because I just didn’t know how to review this book. It’s like my opinions somehow escaped my mind. Luckily, the more I thought about it, the more I was able to develop some form of opinion. In short? I didn’t really like it. Let’s jump into the likes and dislikes. LIKES: ~The similarities between Lady and S. There are many similarities between these two woman and you get to discover them as the story moves along. These two characters are quite similar and Edan did a great job presenting them and their backstories. ~The characters. Okay, so apart from Lady and S, the characters were very interesting. Edan created realistic characters that were flawed and unpredictable. I enjoyed learning about the characters—their thoughts, actions, and what motivated them. ~The writing. The story moves between past and present as well as between POVs. It wasn’t bothersome in the least. I really liked the glimpses of the past because each glimpse was crucial to understanding what was occurring in the present. The couple POVs kept the story moving at a good pace. DISLIKES: ~The "mystery." Prior to going into the story, I believed that there was a huge mystery that would take place. It’s safe to say that I waited and waited…and waited. There were points where I thought: “Oh this must be it,” but by the end of the story, the supposed mysteriousness of it all fell flat for me. ~The ending. Really? That’s how it ended? I really didn’t see how a character gets to feel a certain way about another character even though she practically did the same thing. I know that was a weird sentence, but if you decide to read the story, you’ll see exactly what I mean. ~Questions. For me, there were questions left unanswered. It was just a weird ending. I don’t know how else to explain it, but I felt like there could have been more. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind endings where things are left sort of to the reader to think about. In the case of Woman No. 17, I just needed a teensy bit more to feel like the book was complete.

Really liked the back and forth perspectives of Lady to S. The characters were very real and human. I would read more from this author.

The character studies were interesting, but it was disappointing to see the female characters be well thought out and antagonistic while the male characters were shallow in their depth but well-loved. While the women were fully developed, this juxtaposition was reminiscent of the old boy's club style of writing where men are the heroes and women are non-entities; the women were still irrelevant. The story development was a bit slow in the middle, but otherwise was a fast and entertaining read.

This is a strange novel with intensely unlikable protagonists but fascinating characters all around. Most of the women in the novel are awful, and the men redeem it, which admittedly made me slightly uncomfortable. All in all though, unique and worth reading.

Lady is not a person with whom I would choose to hangout. Not that I didn't enjoy reading about her self-inflicted struggles. This book is about a lot of things, family, raising children, being adult children, and getting older. But I think it is mostly about self-expression and finding, or nurturing, your identity through art. It's also about how the art affects the subjects of the art. Woman No 17 seems to lose herself when she is made the subject of someone else's art. As if that is what defines her. I guess this book is about her freeing herself from the prison it, and the artist responsible, created for her.

What we have here is a book comprised of characters you will dislike intensely. Well, three of them, anyway. Lady fancies herself a writer, even though it appears that all she's written is a blog post or two. That led to a book contract for her to write a memoir, but she is plagued by chronic writer's block. In an attempt to give herself some unencumbered writing time, she hires a nanny named S (yes, S, as in snake - a distinction drawn first by Lady's three-year-old son Devin) to watch her toddler. Lady has an eighteen-year-old son, Seth, a kid who will not talk He has never spoken a word. He can make sounds, but he can't - or won't - talk. He communicates through his own form of sign language, through traditional sign language, and by typing on his phone. Anyway. Back to Lady and S. Let's pause for a moment and observe the preciousness of those names. They are almost distracting. Lady's real name is Pearl, but no one calls her Pearl because she acted like a "lady" when she was a little girl. You can accept this, right? This doesn't seem too cute, does it? Wait till you get to S Fowler, nee Esther Shapiro. S names herself because she is trying an experiment: a would-be artist, S wants to pretend to be her alcoholic mother. So S reacts to everything as her mother would. Even when she interviews with Lady, S resolutely sticks to her mother's persona. So Lady hires S without checking her references. Fortunately, Lady's estranged husband has a bit more sense and looks into S. Lady places far too big a premium on S's plain appearance rather than paying attention to the fact that this recent college graduate is in very close age proximity to Seth. And then there is Kit, Lady's sister-in-law, a famous photographer who needs a new project. Several years ago, she took Lady's photo for a series, titling it Woman No. 17. I'm sure this photo is supposed to symbolize something, but I couldn't tell you what it is. Kit is insufferable. Edan Lupicki builds some tension around Lady and S, making you wonder if their perfidy will be detected. Both of them are wholly unlikable. Lady has a strange sense of entitlement, and S is an opportunist. They will do things that make you roll your eyes, and not once will you empathize with either of them. A just ending for this book would be for the two of them to be roommates in a seedy two-bedroom apartment in Bakersfield. Thankfully, the men in the book elevate the story. Why doesn't Seth talk? The bigger question is if it matters or not. Lady looks at his mutism as commentary about her parenting skills, always eager to place blame. In fact, Seth is an observant, intelligent, sensitive kid. Lady's husband is a good guy - too good for her by far. Another good guy is S's father; again, he's too good for the women in his life. Sometimes when reading this book, I was at a loss as to the point of some of this. S's sociological experiment regarding her mother feels so contrived as to leave you incredulous, as does Lady's approach to parenting and marriage. The pacing is uneven, with some lapses causing your mind to wander. And yet I couldn't put it down. So that tells you something, doesn't it? Lepucki invested me in this book, making me care about Seth, Devin, and Lady's husband. Lady and S? Not so much.

I wasn't sure what to think when I started this book but the more I read, the more I began to enjoy it. I wasn't sure that the alternating viewpoints were working for me but they did help develop the characters. I found the premise interesting. I thought the ending was a little abrupt but overall I liked it.

Woman No. 17 is beautifully weird from the very first sentence. Fantastically descriptive and evocative, it paints a picture between a young female artist hired on to be a full time nanny for the son of a freshly martially separated pampered Lady. She has literally been called Lady her entire life. A wonderful mess of stories from Lady's neurotic selfishness in her personal relationships, "S" (the new nanny) getting involved with Lady's barely legal selectively mute son and a trip down memory lane via S's interpretations of mothers, before they were mothers, this book is an amalgamation of so many different paths in life. It was an enjoyable, yet complex read, and I loved every minute of it.

I'm not sure how I felt about this book. The storyline was interesting enough but the writing style was not exactly my style. I didn't find any of the characters likeable although they were interestingly written. I think I'm going to need to go back and read this book again to see if I find something new and compelling about it, as happens sometimes with a decent read.

I have to agree with the others. The book starts well, builds good characters, but by halfway through I am waiting for more plot development. The twists weren't as twisty as I expected and I was expecting something more.

By the middle of the book I was bored and really annoyed by the whole thing. I just didn't like any of the characters. I didn't have any real problems with the writing style just that everything seemed shallow, not real purpose. I wouldn't recommend this book at all.

This book has an interesting premise, but I'm not sure it was for me. It felt just a smidge too long, but the beginning was outstanding. I liked S slightly more, but could not say that I truly liked either narrative character. Overall I liked it, but would only recommend it to people that are really into literary fiction and artsy.

This book starts promisingly, then peters out, stretching credulity and becoming oddly flat. Peculiar events do not necessarily create an engaging plot. The chapters alternate between two voices, a woman and her child's live-in caretaker, but I had to keep checking which narrator was on tap because they sounded pretty much the same on the page. I finished the book only because I received a First to Read ARC, and felt a responsibility to review it. I don't recommend it.

I was intrigued by the premise of the book, however the characters were so far from complete that it made the effort laughable. To sum it up: Lady is a self-centered woman that truly believes that she should be catered to and "S" is chosen at random to help with both sons however is using her job for some emulation of her mother. Seth begins to sleep with S and S becomes her mother's daughter. Then, pile on a ton of deceit for no reason whatsoever and you have an idea of what this book entails. I made it until the end, but definitely not a great decision on my part.

This is a story about how the relationship we have with our mother defines us as women and sometimes we can't escape becoming them as we grow up. The 2 central characters in the story, S and Lady, have complicated relationships with their mothers. S is an aspiring artist with a peculiar project in mind that gets hired by Lady to help her take care of her toddler son because she is trying to write a book. As S gets more and more involved within her new art project she starts loosing her grip on what is real and what is pretend as she gets to know Lady's older son Seth and she starts unraveling the secrets in the family as well as keeping secrets of her own. It was an interesting enough book but I was expecting more from the story or the characters at the end.

I feel like this book missed its mark. "Sinister, sexy?" More like petty, self-absorbed. The noir desciptor is accurate. Though I did not love it, I think *Woman No. 17* would make a compelling TV mini series. It's unusual in that the male characters are mostly likeable, while not a single female character gained this reader's sympathy. I suspect that this book suffered from its order in my reading list. I had just finished *Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine,* which I throughly enjoyed, and could not help but compare the women in EOICF to those in *Woman No. 17.* I did enjoy WN17's themes of candid vs staged, the stories photos tell and the stories they neglect to tell, expression vs exploitation in art, photography/film/art as communication. Basically, I enjoyed all the art subplots, none of the female friendship or motherhood subplots.

Woman No.17 is a novel by Edan Lepucki. A book filled with an eccentric group of people, all intertwined through art and family. The main character Lady is a mom of two boys, one who is mute, and Lady is struggling to balance life, marriage, and writing her memoir. She's recently kicked her husband out, for no reason other then she's just in a strange funk. Lady hires "S" off of Craigslist to help her with her youngest son while she writes her book, tries to understand her son Seth, and searches the internet for Seths real father who left them both when Seth was a baby. "S" turns out to be the "single white female type". She has changed her look and personality to reflect that of her own mother, as sort of an art project. She already knows of Lady and her famous artist sister in law Kit, and the Woman No.17 photo. "S" becomes close to Lady, and forms a very unhealthy relationship with Seth, both sexual and emotional. The whole novel wreaks of disfunction and drama amongst family, and trying to put all the puzzle pieces together without knowing what the puzzle actually looks like. Secrets are revealed, old love rekindled, and finding out people you trusted were actually deceiving you. This novel is very provocative and a light read your sure to love.

I really enjoyed Woman No. 17. It tells the stories of S/Esther, a recent college grad and artist hired as a live-in nanny, her employer Lady, and Lady's sons and other family. The novel is told in alternating viewpoints (S and Lady) -- and neither is entirely reliable. We see the building of relationships between S and Lady, and between S and Lady's sons, as well as S's and Lady's attempts to develop as artists. Their backgrounds and their stories are more complex than we initially see. There is an aura of mystery and creepiness throughout the book, without it actually being a mystery or a horror story. It's very different from anything I've read recently, which is one reason I think I liked it so much. I want to throw in an additional recommendation for anyone from Los Angeles -- the setting is definitely a character in this book and the author really nails it.

Author Lady Daniels needs to finish her memoir. And now that she's separated from her husband, she realizes she may need some help. And that help comes in the form of S., a young artist who is willing to work as a nanny to make ends meet. She connects right away with Lady's younger son, and Lady's capable-of-taking-care-of-himself older son, Seth, does not seem to mind her all that much either. But as everyone in the house gets to know each other better, secrets bubble to the surface that everyone hoped would stay hidden. And sometimes the truth can be the most poisonous of all... I found this to be an enjoyable and interesting read. There's quite a bit of embedded commentary here on mother-daughter dynamics, both between Lady and S. and between each of them and their own mothers. Add in the interactions between Lady and her two sons, and there might be more here about parent-child relationships in general. And, of course, there is the question of truth and omission of fact. Is it okay to keep information from someone if you think it will protect them or make their life easier? Or is that really up to anyone else to decide besides the person it all affects? And when our secrets are revealed, regardless of how it happens, do we really have anyone else to blame but ourselves?

Disappointing and aimless. When the words "darkly comic, twisty and tense" are used in a novel's description, there are certain expectations that are formed, and I may have gone into reading this book hoping for something else. I found both Lady and S to be unpleasant and miserable central characters to follow as they meandered around the thinly sketched plot and experienced very little in the way of growth. I did read until the end out of sheer curiosity, but was left with a feeling of "That's it?" upon finishing. I am unsure of what Lepucki is trying to say through her writing aside from bad mothers who fail their children, which is rather depressing. I would have liked to see the secondary characters fleshed out more to add some spice to a fairly dreary story.

This is not a book I would have typically chosen, but I did find it an enjoyable read. Lady and S both add their own twist to dysfunctional relationships and the effects they have on the families they interact with. Secrets, plot twists and lies add more interest. Definitely worth the read.

At first this was interesting. I honestly thought Lady / Pearl didn't like children. I just got that vibe, but she's guilty? I don't know... The plot wasn't boring and filled with unusual and annoying characters. Their interactions were unusual- unrealistic. I'm not a fan of multiple POVs, especially in this novel. It doesn't seem to really move the plot along- more like a Q & A. Q: Lady wonders why S dresses and acts this way. A: Read the following 40 pages from S's POV to understand why. This goes on for much of the novel. I'd much rather read it from a single POV and the writer created intentional, engaging dialogue with the other characters. I guess I generally liked Woman No. 17, just not as much as I hoped I would.

I was intrigued by the idea of this book and expected "darkly comic, twisty and tense". Twisty, maybe. But what I found while reading was two unhappy, miserable, unlikeable, unloveable women who were both playing at life. The comic side was more cringe than humor. I kept reading thinking that there must be more to their relationship than lies and drinking, but no. Even the so called art wasn't interesting. I truly didn't care what happened to them. On the other hand, the saving grace of this book is the men, especially Seth and his inability to speak. I wanted more answers to the why of that. I wish that Karl and Marco could have been more developed as characters but they really weren't the point of this book. Maybe they should have been!

A Penguin First to Read ARC e-book in exchange for an honest review. Lady Daniels is a 40 something living in Hollywood Hill. She is recently separated from her husband and wants a nanny to come watch her toddler while she writes a book about her life with her older son Seth, a non-verbal kid with nothing physically wrong with him. In comes “S” aka Esther Shapiro aka Esther Fowler. S has fled Berkley after her artist boyfriend leaves her for not being enough of an artist. She decides to take on a new project, becoming her mom. She finds Lady and starts to be her nanny because that was what her mother had done. Both these female characters are irresponsible and complex in their dealings with other characters in the story. We learn that expression is more than just what we voice. Lots of alcohol abuse, sex, lies and countless secrets are revealed. I did not care much for either Lady or S but the storyline still kept me reading.

A awesome cool completely one of a kind novel!

Thanks Penguin's first-to-read for this ARC. A novel that is hard to pin down, and all the better for it too. Love all the quirky characters that make this novel unique. I'd love to see this as a movie or t.v. series! https://nikbooklover.wordpress.com/2017/05/08/review-woman-no-17/

This is a quirky yet quite original story. Some parts of the story were just there dangling, begging for more development. I would have liked to know more about the relationship between Lady and her mother, S and her mother. These mothers figured prominently into the behaviors of the main protagonists and the relationship between them. Two women leaning toward self-destructive behaviors while coming to grips with the pasts that molded them. Overall, I enjoyed this book.

When I first came across the cover of this book, I knew I had to read it. Combine that with the description and I was hooked. However, I don't feel the book lived up to it's hype. I wanted to love the characters and understand them, but I didn't. S and Lady were very uncaring and a disaster waiting to happen. How can a mother not love her child or want to take care of them? I know it happens a lot, but it seemed staged in the book. Also, the connection with art was just plain weird. The experiments S did made no sense and accomplished nothing except turning her into an alcoholic and a sex fiend. I am positive I am the minority in my rating of this book. I wanted to love it, but I was disgusted and confused most of the time. The story never grew for me and there wasn't a conclusion. This is the only book I have read by Edan Lepucki.

This book is a twist on Tolstoy's quote, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Except in this instance let's go with, ' All good mothers are alike; each bad mother is bad in her own way.' Because this tale is a full blown exploration of the effects of 'bad mothers' on daughters with frail psyches. Rather than pursue therapy or anything as conventional as that, our two 'daughters' go in search of richer soil to develop their psychoses. And make no mistake about it, these two are dabbling on the far end of the psychotic-neurotic scale. They passed the exit for normal many moons ago. Is this a good book? Only if you enjoy reading about the deconstruction of personalities barely held together before the tale began. The only plus for me was that these two wayward souls didn't end up killing any humans in their brief relationship. It could easily have been that kind of tale. Although a pet's life is lost to make a point, one that was made repeatedly. The story was like passing an accident on the freeway, you half look and half realize that it's best not to take your eyes from the road. The distraction is unresolvable.

I am probably not the target audience for this book as I see that others liked this book. I enjoyed the first two chapters but the story turned sour for me when the purpose was revealed for Esther/S taking the nanny job. Much of the book is about mothers who have failed their daughters. In Lady's case, it was also about a mother who was afraid to fail her sons. I kept waiting for Esther and Lady to exhibit some resilience, but both seemed stuck in old patterns. I found the most likable and most optimistic characters to be Karl and Steve, but they are not fully developed. One other small quibble I had with the book was the statement that Seth was referred to a speech therapist and then to a speech pathologist. Those are the same profession and the titles are often used interchangeably.

Eden Lepucki’s storytelling fits like a glove. Both imaginative and wickedly descriptive (“The past tense was like a shove to the chest.” p. 4; “…I’m so hungry my stomach is sucking itself like a straw.” P. 86; “…a curl of smoke snaked out of the bottle’s mouth.” p. 91; “my favorite green t-shirt, as thin and soft as a gas station receipt.” P.192) where you least expect it, is exactly makes you savor every page. The author has taken on the formidable task of illustrating not only, how “being female is a lifelong lesson that starts with…” (p. 3) our first directions of self-care and self-control, but also how being a mother and a wife often puts women at odds and often on hold, with the same. This twinning, if you will, is both literal and figurative and impossible not to see throughout. If we begin at the beginning with the twins, Kit and Karl, opposite sides of the same coin, and move toward the end of the friction that can complicate the best of relationships between mother and daughter, Lepucki makes it is easy to step in either twin’s shoes/skin. If that is too hard, she also allows the reader a place to stand as an artful observer able to see where coloring life by the numbers comes with a very basic palette of primary colors... Lepucki gets the duality in every decision where our roles expand from the nexus of just “me.” She explores the balance required to become uniquely you while messages (shame, expectations, desires), media (social) and various medium (print, photography, etc.) exploit us to be otherwise. I admit to hating the seemingly one-dimension of Karl. I was confused as to if he was an icon of patriarchy or just a stilted version of men [who] interruptus (pun intended) acquiring and pigeon holing a trophy wife. I resolved my issue on my second pass/reading by what resonated more when I led with that question and with the Acknowledgments by the author in hand. Where there is a decade or more between spouses it is unfair to shortchange the younger’s journey of self-discovery and mastery of essential skills before the self-realization occurs. I then understood the underlying tension at play between the last pairing—that between a couple and am made grateful for the re-read. Soulful, methodical and a solace if not a salve achieved for all mothers doubting or lacking in what we think makes crossing the bridge successful or not between differing abilities amongst their selves and multiple children. We are left to ponder what is inherent in the struggle to find proper balance and what is inherited and throws things off kilter deep down within us (“What had happened to him? I had happened. I was the trauma. I am the trauma. Whatever I did to him I keep doing it.” p. 290) I congratulate the author on using Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree and encouraging me to revisit it as a pairing to review for my blog.

Such a complex read that I thoroughly enjoyed. Looking forward to getting a hard copy as soon as I can!

This book was interesting, though not anything I typically read, and it kept me intrigued to the end. Looking back now, I think that's because I was waiting for something big to happen - the "sinister" part that was advertised in the book's pitch. Sadly, sinister never appeared. That being said, the characters were colorful and bizarre, though sometimes also lame. Overall, I feel like there wasn't a real "story" in this book, just a glimpse into a few weeks of interactions between some people, related and not.

Edan Lepucki is one of my favorite writers who has such a small amount of published works. She has a way of drawing you in. She writes so casually and honestly, you feel as if she is telling it just for you. She has a dark humor that I share and enjoy thoroughly. Woman No. 17 begins with Lady, writer and mother of two searching for a live-in nanny. Her children are from different fathers. The first man long gone, a bad match from the start. He only had their son Seth, a smart and sassy non-verbal boy, to grant his mothers dying wish. Lady's next suitor to their toddler Devin has recently left the house, thus the need for the nanny. Enter S (Esther), a young college student who wants to prove herself as a serious artist but keeps falling short.

wow, not really sure where to start. This book was un-put-down-able! The writing was wonderful, told from an alternating narrative of 2 very different yet very similar woman. Who meet at very different turning point in their lives, but somehow become friends, albeit uneasy ones. Overall I am not sure if I like these woman very much, I was however drawn into their stories. Complex relationships seemed to the main theme here, but there are many smaller ones within as well. It is a wild ride, one I very much enjoyed. Pick up a copy, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Woman No.17 is one of those books that is disturbing on many levels, but you just can't put it down. Both Lady and S have issues with their mothers and it bleeds into their art and other relationships. Her characters are well drawn, but just a bit out there that you feel like you never know them completely and it keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what they will do. Lepucki is very talented and I can't believe I misssed her first novel California. (I picked up a copy yesterday.) I have a list of authors who when I see they have a new book out it gives me a little rush of excitement and Edan Lepucki just made that list.

This was a great book. Entertaining, thoughtful and heartfelt.

 


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