By: Edan Lepucki
Publication Date: 5/9/2017
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
Edan Lepucki returns following California with her latest WOMAN NO.17 – a cleverly written twisty contemporary of motherhood, womanhood, relationships, and identity.
Infused with art in many forms, a web of deceit, dark and witty — a sinister look into a Hollywood family and complex relationships. When things are not always as they appear.
Think a "helicopter" insecure mom with a past; an impersonator, selective mutism, alcoholism, childhood traumas, a revealing photograph, narcissistic behavior, self-sabotage, social media (Twitter) obsession, time, age, a love triangle, and a bunny.
However, this is no typical “Fatal Attraction” . . . A modern contemporary saga: deeper, absorbing, and entertaining. No boiled bunny; however, a floating Peter Rabbit bunny.
An emotional powerhouse of a novel!
Being a child, daughter, and mother is painful." A burden. Told from different perspectives.
Set in Hollywood Hills, a part of the Santa Monica Mountains; a hillside neighborhood of the central region of the city of Los Angeles, California— Lady Daniels is married to Karl, a rich guy who appears to love his family and has given her the life she never had previously. Lady has not always had it so glamorous and able to live this lifestyle.
As we revisit the past, Lady was formerly married to a no-good bum, jack-ass Marcus. None of her girlfriends or anyone liked him. She gets pregnant and ready to have an abortion years earlier and Marcus wants her to keep the baby. Before their son, Seth is even a toddler, Marcus leaves with a little help and financial incentive from Lady’s mom.
Lady hated her mom. Vicious and gorgeous. They had not spoken in twenty years. A love/hate relationship. As a single mom, Lady raised her son, Seth, barely making ends meet. She is protective of him. He never speaks. Marcus never knew about his selective mutism. Then Karl comes along and they marry and are raising son Devin (age two) and Seth. He is a good father to both boys.
As the book opens, Seth is now nineteen, and Devin is a toddler. Devin is a constant chatterbox and talks non-stop, unlike his brother. Seth does not speak and talks via his iPhone, sign language, social media, and letters.
Lady and Karl have an argument regarding an incident about her son Seth. She asks Karl to leave for a trial separation; however, they have a unique relationship and still see one another. Lady does not know what she wants. She is very confused and troubled.
Lady had written an essay in Real Simple about the strains of parenting a mute child After it went viral, she landed a book contract to expand on the subject.
In her forties, she decides to hire a nanny to help take care of Devin, so she could spend her time writing. However, she goes to coffee shops among other things and never writes. She procrastinates and overthinks everything.
She hires a twenty-two-year-old girl, called “S”. S is not her real name. She connects with Lady and Devin. Immediately, Lady hires her without even doing a background check. She moves into the cottage.
Lady is needy and in desperate need of companionship. She makes crazy poor choices. She pushes Karl away, and overprotective with Seth, and does not have the patience for Devin. However, she and S soon become friends. Even though they have a twenty-year-age difference, the two have many things in common. Mainly their dysfunctional overbearing mothers. (and, Seth). The claws come out.
As the book moves on, we hear from Lady and S. We know early on, S has something up her sleeve. Lady has a past involving a photograph called Woman No. 17, taken by her sister-in-law, and nemesis, Kit. How will these three connect? (Lots of triangles in the book).
S begins working on a secretive art project and in the meantime, she becomes closer to Seth. (before/after) in reverse. They connect in more ways than none. He is working on a film plus much more. He also is a little naughty. S loves to drink as well as Lady. Lady is always hungry.
Readers learn more about Lady’s past and S’s family. Seth is mysterious with a secretive side. Lady thinks about Marco and wants him to meet (their) son. Karl is trying to get back together. Marcus is curious about his dad. Lady and S have their own secrets.
Stop. Drop. Dead. Private signs.
Twitter: @Sethconscious and @muffinbuffin41. Crazy action going on here.
Seth is a teen boy. Lady Daniel’s baby boy. He was like a wild animal, rarely seen and barely understood. He has selective mutism. Was Seth a skilled liar? Dangerous? S and Seth are both artists.
With all the drama and the deception, there are so many funny hilarious moments. One of my favorites one-liners, among many:
“Mommy,” Devin said, finally tearing himself away from the screen. “You done with your dog hair?”
I laughed and wiped my face with my sleeve. “Hair of the dog, baby."
"And, yes, I finished it. Go back to watching your show now. Mommy’s all right.”
Triangles: Seth/Lady/S, Marco/Karl/Lady, Lady/Marco/Kit, Seth/Kit/S, (Sure I am leaving out more).
A woman saddled with secrets. Guilt. Betrayal. A mother who straddles between love and doubt. A collision course. Two complex women. Secrets and lies. Lady is not as put together as she would like others to believe. WOMAN NO. 17 would make an interesting movie. (Very LA)
The author skillfully crafts complexities of life with a twist. A compelling portrait of motherhood. WOMAN NO. 17 is like nothing you will ever read. It is unique. The author is talented and delves into the human psyche. With flawed characters, written with a deep understanding of mothers, daughters, sons.
The best description (bullseye) and an accurate summary of the book (great review):
. . . “Despite the hint of deceit and scent of illicit canoodling in the air, Lepucki doesn’t appear to be interested in writing a trashy noir cum sly bodice-ripper, though some of the sexy scenes do get a pinch, well, rough. Pretty early on, it’s clear that she’s experimenting with exploring something deeper. Mainly: what it means to be a needy, vulnerable, passionate, discarded lover,
wife, daughter, and mother.” . . .
“Woman No. 17” is structured like a classic she-said, she-said. In odd-numbered chapters, we hear about events from Lady’s perspective —
and the scoop ain’t pretty. " . . . San Francisco Chronicle.
Like the book based, mini- TV series, Big Little Lies, there is a façade. Twisted secrets. Friendships. Motherhood. Relationships. She was poor, lonely, and single when Lady met Karl. Did he ever really know the real Lady? Lady is coming unglued and her life is unraveling. Self-sabotage. The haunting photo.
Gripping. Provocative. Thought-provoking, and yet frustrating.
The book raises big questions about identity, ethics, art, parenthood, relationships, motherhood, social media and our modern digital age. A mix of intriguing, stimulating, unpredictable, mysterious, and utterly engaging.
I hit the literary jack box: I scored an electronic early reading copy from NetGalley, and granted an early print book from LibraryThing Early Reviewers, and purchased the audiobook, which sealed the deal!
My favorite narrator is Cassandra Campbell. I pretty much pre-order every book she narrates. Her voice is calming and soothing. She was a perfect Lady and Devin. Phoebe Strole was well-suited for the younger S! 11 hrs and 46 mins. Kept me entertained for days!
Ironically, I had just finished The Scattering (Strole) and The Book of Summer (Campbell) performing and directly afterward got to hear them both as a duo team.
Looking forward to reading more from Lepucki. Her writing is inventive, unique, sharp, fascinating, dark, mysterious and witty. I found myself dying to get back to the book. It was addictive. Strongly reminded of Ellen Meister’s The Other Life with the art connection, humor, and an honest look at the innermost thoughts of struggling women.
A special thank you to Crown, LibraryThing Early Reviewers, and NetGalley for an early reading copy.