Book Review: Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
One-sentence summary of Woman No. 17:
Needing a live-in nanny to help care for her toddler son, Lady hires S, a young woman who becomes a destructive force to the family.
Oh, what a gathering of unlikeable characters we meet in Woman No. 17.
- We have Lady, an emotionally stunted mom who canâ€™t seem to find appropriate boundaries.
- S, an
- Karl, the estranged husband who basks in his superiority. Heâ€™s somewhat more likeable, but the fact he fell for Lady shows his need for control; to be a knight in shining armour who can fix everything for this woman and call all the shots.
- Kit, Karlâ€™s sister, tries to stage Ladyâ€™s life as if itâ€™s another of her perfectly-composed photographs.
Theyâ€™re just so cringey; especially Lady and S. In many ways, the two women are similar. Theyâ€™re both immature. They both make stupid decisions, but when confronted with their stupidity, they dig in and insist on carrying things through. Their mothers are toxic. They have sexual relationships with the wrong men.
Itâ€™s difficult to understand why anyone in her right mind would entrust her child to someone like S, especially after Sâ€™s character flaws become evident.
But then we see Ladyâ€™s character flaws and begin to understand.
Hereâ€™s the jist of one conversation Lady has with S:
- Lady (seeing a trash can full of empty liquor bottles): Wow. You drink A LOT.
- S: Yeah, well not around your son.
- Lady: Cool. Letâ€™s go get mimosas, BFF!
It doesnâ€™t exactly happen that way in the book, but much of their relationship is one of mutual irresponsibility.
However, the reader mustnâ€™t fall into the trap of judging Lady too harshly. Women are sometimes labelled as Madonnas or whores without much grey area in between. Especially once they bear children.
Giving birth doesnâ€™t conscript a woman to a life of chaste, PG-rated wholesomeness. Mothers are still sexual and vibrant and capable of making mistakes.
And Lady makes mistakes. Bad ones. But letâ€™s not jump on the judgmental bandwagon of labelling her unfit.
In sketching out characters we love to hate, Edan Lepucki succeeds.
I would have preferred a different outcome for S, but I guess this hate-reading experience doesnâ€™t have to end with a big moral exclamation mark.
One pet peeve: Woman No. 17 is not a mystery, despite what some summaries say.
Itâ€™s a long eye-rolling look at someone who misrepresents herself. Itâ€™s more character study than mystery. Even with the twist, thereâ€™s nothing to solve here.
Simply, itâ€™s a story that unfolds as two emotionally immature women stumble through adulting.