Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
Edan Lepucki’s latest story takes place in contemporary LA and other parts of California. A recent college grad is hired as a live in nanny, and things get complicated. The household is shaken by the very recent separation, and is inhabited by an 18-year old son as well as the tot and the mom.
Moreover, the both the mom and the sitter have estranged relations with their own mothers, and other family complications, past and present.
The nanny is, for some reason, schitzing off in some half-baked “art project” that involves “becoming her mother”, including odd behavior, heavy drinking, and some kind of photography project. (I’m not sure that twenty-somethings should be allowed to major or minor in Art, at Berkeley or anywhere.) The mom is thrashing around with the implications of her faltering marriage, weirdly mute older son, her husband, and a languishing book project. And so on.
If there is a theme in all this, it must be that people both lie and misunderstand the truth, all the time. The truth is hard to find, even if you mean to.
I should note that Lepucki depicts the mischief that digital social media can play. In the age of too Much Information, Information is hidden, information is discovered, information is misinterpreted. Stalking is risky, and hiding behind digital masks is dangerous and damaging to everyone.
The whole show spirals into disaster, as the two women lean toward each other and at the same time are pushed apart by their men, mothers, and pasts. It’s painful to watch.
At then end, a new nanny is needed. Lepucki gives us the want ad, which reflects the lessons learned.
“SEEKING BABYSiTTER FOR PRECOCIOUS TODDLER-
“Looking for a new babysitter or my smart and chatty toddler, effective immediately. 2-3 days a week, live-in option to be considered after a 6-week probation period.
5+ years of experience working with kids
References from previous childcare positions
Driver’s license and full background check
“Also, I have another son who is (barely) an adult. He suffers from selective mutism. If you’re unlucky enough to meet him, I ask that you refrain from getting involved in his mind games.
“If you’re and artist of any kind, please look elsewhere. I’ve had enough of you for one lifetime.” (p. 298)
This novel is very well-crafted, if baffling in places. I had trouble identifying with these characters and situations , but Lepucki is such a good writer that I read right along, even through the really, really unpleasant parts.
Lepucki’s previous novel, California, is famous for receiving one of the most spectacular Colbert bumps in history. This is at least as good as California, which shows it wasn’t just luck.
- Edan Lepucki, Woman No. 17, New York, Hogarth, 2017.
Sunday Book Reviews