WOMAN NO. 17: A NOVEL,
BY EDAN LEPUCKI
PUBLICATION: HOGARTH; MAY 9, 2017
About the book: 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.
Woman No. 17 is the upcoming novel from author Edan Lepucki, described as “noir,” although I don’t see the connection. I loved this novel, I just wouldn’t put it in the category of noir. Lady is separated from her sweet, loving husband Karl, so decides to hire a nanny for her toddler-age son, Devin, to allow more time for writing a novel/memoir about life with her 18-year-old son Seth, a selective mute. Here is where we meet S, the new nanny. Actually named Esther Shapiro, S has reinvented herself several times for the sake of art projects or experiments, this time going by S and mimicking her mother regarding clothing, hair, lack of make-up, etc.
The protagonist or main character was equally both Lady and S but in different ways. Lady is dealing with separating from Karl (her choice), raising young Devin, writing a book, and nurturing her relationship with Seth. Much more drama comes into her life, but no spoilers here. S is a complex and complicated character, taking on the persona of her mother, yet still allowing real versions of her shine through from time to time. Despite Seth’s refusal and/or inability to speak, S takes a “liking” to him and finds herself consumed in thoughts about him. She also obsesses about Lady and her sister-in-law Kit (a famous photographer), including a potentially awkward masturbation scene to a picture of Lady, taken by Kit.
There are so many themes and subplots to this novel I’m not sure where to begin. Honestly, I think I need to do bullet points….
- spousal and ex-spousal relationships
- art – limitations and boundaries
- mother-daughter issues
Yes, I repeated a few and did so on purpose. Throughout S’s project/experiment trying to become her mother, there is a lot of drinking and a lot of art or attempts at art. But don’t be put-off by that comment because there is so much more to this novel. When is a mother too clingy or pushy? How does not having the natural father in their life affect a child? What kind of guilt is carried with long-term arguments?
Woman No. 17 takes the reader on a journey about obsessions, secrets, and how revelations about those can cause a family to explode. The complexity of Lady and S’s relationship with one another is amazing, as well as, the relationships that develop throughout the novel. There isn’t one huge, climactic event in this novel, but rather, a continuous string of surprises and actions that build wonderful tension and suspense about what will happen next. This is definitely a novel that will inspire a lot of thinking and reflection about the characters, their relationships, and boundaries. I highly, highly recommend grabbing this one and be prepared to be rendered useless to the outside world once you start reading, because you will not put it down.
*Thanks to NetGalley for providing a copy of this ARC in exchange for an honest review.