A woman in her early 40’s and one in her early 20’s cross paths with interesting repercussions in Edan Lepucki’s new novel Woman No. 17. Lady, a not-so-aspiring author and wealthy mother of two, hires Esther, a cynical art grad in the throes of her most recent project, to care for her three-year-old son while she works on a book she has been commissioned to write about her eighteen year old son’s mutism. Borne out of complex relationships with their mothers and a driving desire to return to the past, the two women share a quirky, impulsive, I give no f*#%s attitude which makes for great dialogue and an entrancing read!
Woman No.17 is labeled as a noir– “a genre of fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity” (Thank you kindly, Google dictionary!) so when the questionable decisions started rolling I found myself prepared. Lady makes stupid moves in the name of love- both romantic and filial, while Esther’s transgressions are a bit more calculated, blurring the line between art and life as she becomes her pre-motherhood mother as a performance art/psych. project of sorts. Though I inevitably found myself shouting Why?! at both characters, I found them to be extremely well-developed and relatable. They are smart, complicated, flawed women. And aren’t we all?
Feminist art provides a rich and interesting subtext to the novel. Though she states more than once her distaste for artists, Lady finds herself surrounded by them, at times against her will and at times without her knowledge. Lepucki explores different mediums- literature, photography, painting, film, performance- asking readers what effects technology and social media have had on art and to what degree the human subjects of these pieces are exploited or not, particularly when the subject or artist is a woman. I found it all quite fascinating and thought the many projects proposed throughout could certainly be successful works in real life.
Edan Lepucki’s Woman No. 17 is a raw, unfiltered look into the minds of two woman separated by a generation but united in their struggle to understand and overcome the impact of their mothers on their current trajectories. Beautifully spun, it’s an insightful page-turner that merits more than a speedy read.
*- I received a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.