Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

I enjoy reading books where the scenery and landscape act as characters in and of themselves. Anyone who has ever read Joan Didion can appreciate the richness of a backdrop in California: the smell of sunblock after a day of lounging by the pool, long dresses flowing in the wind with long hair to match. I couldn’t escape the imagery of David Hockney’s paintings as I read this.

Lepucki’s newest book (after her first novel, aptly titled California), explores motherhood and the struggles of women’s search for identity. Esther is a newly graduated college student who becomes “S.” She hopes to reinvent herself with a lofty performance art piece, nannying to make money on the side. She has recently broken up from a cliché artsy college dude who influences her artwork, but inevitably breaks her heart.

Lady is S’s new employer. Her children are Devin, a sweet and curious toddler, and Seth, a teenager with selective mutism.

Lady uses the time afforded to her with S’s nannying to engage in some time-honored coffee-shop-procrastination, while she tries to write a piece about Seth’s mutism. Lady is separated from her husband, and she muddles through trying to find Seth’s birth father who abandoned them when Seth was young. All kinds of boundary-crossing, and family dysfunction shenanigans ensue.

I have found that I don’t enjoy books that have a heavy focus on grit and grime, that make you feel like you have to take a shower when you’re done reading them. For S’s performance piece, she becomes a bit of an accidental alcoholic, which of course leads to…grossness (Spoiler Alert: there’s some vomiting and general yuck) While this adds a level of realism to the book, the book lost some of its entertainment quality for me. (sidenote: I wish I could’ve finished this book, but I was too grossed out)

That being said, Lady and “S” are sticky, selfish, flawed, broken, and irresponsible.  I liked the characterization of everyone in this book. When writers expose feelings and behaviors that are embarrassing, the characters seem more real.

As my dad always says, you don’t have to like art to appreciate it. I appreciate this book, and I would recommend it- I think it has great artistic value. For me, it simply wasn’t as entertaining.

Rating: 3 stars

Further Reading:

I received this book for free from the Blogging for Books program! All opinions are my own.