By: Edan Lepucki
Publication Date: 5/9/2017
My Rating: 4.5 Stars
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.
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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.
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. Lady is not as put together as she would like others to believe. WOMAN NO. 17 would make an interesting movie. (Very LA)
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.
May Top Reads
Read by Cassandra Campbell, Phoebe Strole
Praise for Woman No. 17
“Taut as a thriller (with plenty of sex and secrets), Woman No. 17 raises big questions about identity, art, ethics, parenthood, and more. In Edan Lepucki's hands, the philosophical is transformed into a page turner; I don't know how she does it.”
–Rumaan Alam, author of Rich & Pretty
Selected Praise for California:
New York Times Bestseller
NPR best book of 2014
Los Angeles Times Bestseller
San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, 2014
"Rewarding....[One of] 30 books you NEED to read in 2014."
"Edan Lepucki's first novel comes steeped in Southern California literary tradition....One thinks of Steve Erickson or Cynthia Kadohata, or Carolyn See, whose 1987 novel Golden Days ends with the nuclear holocaust."
--David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times
"Lepucki's debut is an inventive take on the post-apocalyptic novel, about a couple who moves from an isolated existence in the wilderness to a guarded community that, they soon realize, harbors terrifying secrets and unforseen dangers."
--Laura Pearson, Time Out Chicago
"In her arresting debut novel, Edan Lepucki conjures a lush, intricate, deeply disturbing vision of the future, then masterfully exploits its dramatic possibilities."
--Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
"An ambitious, powerful, frightening first novel...California shows the moment-by-moment reality of a painful possible future, the price we may have to pay for our passionate devotion to all the wrong things."
--Sarah Stone, San Francisco Chronicle
"Lepucki gives readers the most welcome surprise--in a dystopian novel, anyway--of flashes of humor. Many of her witty touches make reference to the familiar details of life in 2014, and what happens to them in the future."
--Cleveland Plain Dealer
"An expansive, full-bodied and masterful narrative of humans caught in the most extreme situations, with all of our virtues and failings on full display: courage, cowardice, trust, betrayal, honor and expedience. The final eighty pages of this book gripped me as much as any fictional denouement I've encountered in recent years....I firmly believe that Edan Lepucki is on the cusp of a long, strong career in American letters."
--Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
"Edan Lepucki is the very best kind of writer: simultaneously generous and precise. I am long been an admirer of her prose, but this book---this book, this massive, brilliant book---is a four alarm fire, the ambitious and rich introduction that a writer of her caliber deserves. I can't wait for the world to know what I have known for so many years, that Edan Lepucki is the real thing, and that we will all be bowing at her feet before long."
--Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of The Vacationers and Modern Lovers
"It's tempting to call this novel post-apocalyptic, but really, it's about an apocalypse in progress, an apocalypse that might already be happening, one that doesn't so much break life into before and after as unravel it bit by bit. Edan Lepucki tells her tale with preternatural clarity and total believability, in large part by focusing on the relationships -- between husband and wife, brother and sister, parent and child -- that are, it turns out, apocalypse-proof. Post-nothing. California is timeless."
--Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
"California is a wonder: a big, gripping and inventive story built on quiet, precise human moments. Edan Lepucki's eerie near future is vividly and persuasively imagined. She is a fierce new presence in American fiction."
--Dana Spiotta, author of Stone Arabia
"Breathtakingly original, fearless and inventive, pitch perfect in its portrayal of the intimacies and tiny betrayals of marriage, so utterly gripping it demands to be read in one sitting: Edan Lepucki's California is the novel you have been waiting for, the novel that perfectly captures the hopes and anxieties of contemporary America. This is a novel that resonates on every level, a novel that stays with you for a lifetime. Read it now."
--Joanna Rakoff, author of A Fortunate Age and My Salinger Year
"California is carefully drawn and beautifully textured. It's a pleasure to watch love and family transform in this dark, strange forest."
--Ramona Ausubel, author of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty
About the Author
Edan Lepucki is the author of the novella If You’re Not Yet Like Me and the novel California. Her new novel, Woman No. 17, will be published in May 2017 by Hogarth/Crown.
California debuted at #3 on the New York Times Bestsellers List and has been the #1 bestseller on the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestsellers lists. It’s also been on the IndieBound and Publishers Weekly Bestsellers Lists. California was a fall 2014 selection of Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers program. Edan and Stephen Colbert are now besties.
Edan is a graduate of Oberlin College and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her fiction and nonfiction have been published in Narrative Magazine, The New York Times, and McSweeney’s, among others. The Los Angeles Times named her a Face to Watch for 2014. She is a contributing editor to The Millions and the founder of Writing Workshops Los Angeles.
Follow her on Twitter at @edanl. Read More