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Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
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Woman No. 17

by Edan Lepucki

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I lugged a paperback ARC of this book around for 2 months and never made it past page 90. I didn't enjoy it, didn't see the point of the performance art (which seemed to consist of being as obnoxious as possible) and disliked all of the adult characters. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. ( )
  fhudnell | May 19, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
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 hates 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, 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. JDCMustReadBooks ( )
  JudithDCollins | May 14, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
“I knew she didn’t go by her full name, but ‘S’ felt so pretentious, as if she’d rebranded herself at sleep-away camp.”

And so we meet Esther . . . and Lady . . . and a whole cast of unusual and memorable characters in Edan Lepucki’s fun, noirish third book.

There’s something about the bleakness, darkness, and absurdities of her take on marriage and contemporary Southern California that reminded me of Joe McGinniss Jr.’s terrific novel CAROUSEL COURT. They’re very different novels in some respects, but they do share a certain style and sensibility, as well as smart plots involving profoundly damaged characters doing some desperate things. Both novels are domestic train wrecks that we watch unfold in slow-motion and can’t look away from — strangely addictive stuff.

I read an interview with Lepucki in which she said: “I am practically immune to embarrassment. It's sometimes a problem, because I don't have as strong a 'filter' as other people do and can end up saying some pretty inappropriate things. . . . Then again, I think my willingness to say what I mean is useful in fiction writing because I'm not scared to go to dark, unseemly places and explore the messy inner lives of my characters.”

And that says a lot about what unfolds in WOMAN NO. 17. Very “unseemly” and “messy” indeed.

That’s the good news. But something was missing here too. I can’t quite find the words to describe it, but I felt a bit unsatisfied in the end. Maybe it’s that it just wasn’t believable (enough).

On balance, I’d recommend this one. It was enjoyable and smart, and, as I said, it’s hard to look away from the calamity.

(Thank you to Hogarth for an advance copy in exchange for an impartial review.) ( )
  Wickabod | May 12, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
The setting - a mother separated from her Hollywood producer husband hires a babysitter for her 2-year old without doing a thorough background check - led me to spend most of the book waiting for the train wreck. I'm happy to say, however, that this isn't "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle". In addition to the 2-year old, the woman (who has annoyingly adopted the name "Lady") has an 18-year old son who, although normal in other ways, doesn't speak. Then there is her estranged husband's twin sister, a famous artist. And the babysitter, who lives in the cottage formally occupied by the mute son, is having identity issue of her own--having decided to call herself 'S' and try to become her mother by drinking to excess and not wearing makeup. By now, this must all sound pretty ridiculous. And in some ways it is. We learn a lot about LA fashions in restaurants and coffee bars through the narration, which alternates between Lady and S. Twitter plays a big part, too. The author makes it all hold together, however, with some great scenes as the characters interact, and by creating a real sense of place, whether it is Lady's home, or the last place in Southern California to get your film developed. While this is in now way "my kind of book," Lepucki surprised me with where she took the story. She makes a lot of characters come to life and it doesn't go on too long. Considering the possible train wreck, the ending offers some hope. I enjoyed it. ( )
  datrappert | May 11, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
"You think you know how a story begins, or how its going to turn out, especially when it's your own. You don't."

How did she end up here? Lady Daniels has been pretty independent for her entire adult life. Years ago, her lover left her to raise their son Seth. Beyond the fact that she had no money and a mother who would rather judge her than help, Lady had the added challenge of raising a child who could not speak. All the doctors and specialists reached the same conclusion about Seth. There is no medical explanation for him being mute. Understandably this leaves Lady guilt ridden and having more questions than answers.

Years later, Lady is facing a different kind of crisis. Her husband Karl has moved out and left Lady to raise their young son Devin while still worrying about teenager Seth. She has also been commissioned to write a book about her journey as a mother facing her son's disability. Time constraints of motherhood aside, Lady is having a hard time writing this book. It is forcing her to recall a painful period of time and uproot memories that were long laid to rest. Even worse, Seth is beginning to question his past. Who is his dad? Why did he leave? Is a reunion in the cards?

Enter the elusive "S". Born Esther Shapiro, the twenty-something art student has taken on a new identity. She's running from a failed art project and disastrous relationship and looking for a fresh start. Not only has she found her next great work of art, but she's also found a way to remove herself from her previous life. For her latest masterpiece, S has assumed the role of her tragic alcoholic mother. She dresses like mom, drinks herself into blackouts, and ignores the people and relationships around her. The best part of all of this, S has convinced Lady that she is the perfect person to be a live in nanny for little Devin. What could possibly go wrong?!

Edan Lepucki follows her hit novel California, with the masterful character study Woman No. 17. Chapters shift between the point of view of Lady and S, highlighting their time together as each woman navigates the challenges of their lives. The two contrast each other in a commentary on the way people change as they age. Lepucki manages to create well developed and engaging characters, even when the women act in less than sympathetic ways. The novel ends up being a thoughtful exploration of motherhood, art, disability, and the way we navigate the difficulties of everyday life. Woman No. 17 is a brilliant blend of reflective observation and captivating drama that makes it an excellent read. ( )
  es135 | May 10, 2017 |
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High in the Hollywood Hills, writer Lady Daniels has decided to take a break from her husband. She's going to need a hand with her young son if she's ever going to finish her memoir. In comes S., a magnetic young artist, who will live in the secluded guesthouse out back, care for Lady's young toddler son and keep a watchful eye on her older, teenage one. S performs her day job beautifully, quickly drawing the entire family into her orbit and becoming a confidante for Lady. But as the summer wears on, S.'s connection to Lady's older son takes a disturbing, and possibly destructive, turn. Lady and S. will move closer to each other as they both threaten to harm the things they hold most dear.
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