Edan Lepucki: Woman No. 17

A sinister, sexy noir about art, motherhood, and the intensity of female friendships, set in the posh hills above Los Angeles, from the New York Times bestselling author of California.

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 guest house 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 one another as they both threaten to harm 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.

Woman No. 17 was the first book I picked up after my moving hiatus. I’d hoped that the dramatic plot I’d been hearing so much about would draw me out of the slump that moving stress had thrown me into. It worked–no more book slump. But I have very mixed feelings about the latest popular literary novel.

On one hand, the plot is fleshed out and the characters are complicated. On the other, it’s very dubious and problematic.

Does that make the book great or terrible?

Lady obviously has a huge problem with her son being diagnosed on the spectrum at all. Even the mere suggestion of autism makes her age. She also has an intense possessiveness over her son–she almost prefers his inability to communicate–to the point that she tries to stifle his adaptivity–so she can keep him to herself.

Esther (S) hatches an art project mimicking her mother’s alcoholism. To me, it seems quite cruel, but it’s “art,” so it’s totally fine, right? She also uses words like gimp, and mocks Seth’s disability–again in the name of her project.

The writing is wonderful, and the story holds a reader’s attention–it was compelling enough to keep going even among the characters’ questionable morals and decisions. But how far do you go with terrible, problematic characters before the book itself becomes problematic? Is this a book that is trying to show human complication and cruelty? Or is it just cruel?

I tend to think it is the former–but it definitely toes the line. If I had a half star, it would probably be a 2.5 rating–but I’m going to give the author the benefit of the doubt on this one.

What did you think about Woman No. 17? Compelling, dubious, or just plain problematic?

Blogging for Books and Hogarth provided a copy of this book for unbiased review. This post contains affiliate links.


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