Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

How do you define yourself? If you are a parent, does your sense of self rely on your children? If you are a daughter, are you defined by your parents? Do you identify with your professional self before anything else? Just who do you think you are and who do others think you are? What image do you present to the world? Edan Lepucki's twisty newest novel, Woman No. 17 addresses issues of identity, motherhood, art, and relationship.

Lady Daniels is the mother of two sons. Her oldest son Seth is 18 and completely nonverbal. She is careful to note that he is not autistic nor is he a genius; he's mute for no discernible physical reason. Devin, her younger son, is a chatty, busy toddler. She and her two boys live in a large and gracious home in the Hollywood Hills; her husband has recently moved out, at Lady's request, although he would like to reconcile. Lady is supposed to be writing a memoir but she needs help with Devin in order to find the time to write. When an ad for a nanny brings S Fowler (real name Esther Shapiro) into Lady's life, she quickly hires this young woman about whom she knows next to nothing. S is an artist who creates unconventional projects. Her latest performance piece is intentionally taking on her mother's persona, a fact she does not disclose to Lady. Nor does she disclose to Lady the growing connection she and Seth are developing.  But S isn't the only one with secrets in the Daniels home.  Lady has a few of them herself.  Lady needs S, just as S needs Lady, so the reader knows early on that things can't possibly end well between them.

The novel's narration is first person and shifts between Lady and S, revealing secrets held and secrets told from two different perspectives. Both main characters are rather hard to like, being both self-destructive and self-absorbed. Both women make terrible choices in their unsettling and dysfunctional lives, a fact that leads to a rising feeling of unease as the book goes on. There are certainly moments of humor to lighten the strange obsession and dependence at play here and they are much appreciated moments for sure.  The ending sort of fizzles out but the writing remains strong and unequivocal.  A novel of what art reveals and what it hides, the facades we take on in our public lives and how they are stripped away in our private lives, this is an edgy and uncomfortable read but one that is strangely hypnotizing. Whether Lady takes advantage of S or if S takes advantage of Lady is something I'm still trying to figure out even as I'm glad I don't know either of these women in real life.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I read this one a few months ago. I think I shared your puzzlement at the ending and like you, I didn't care for either of the women.


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