Over the past several years there seems to be a resurgence of stories wherein the women of Southern California are, well, crazy. It appears that if you’re a resident of the Hollywood Hills (or adjacent in the case of this book) that you must be crazy or some sort of artist. In Edan Lepucki’s Woman No. 17, we follow the lives of Lady and Esther and their rather incredible mistakes. Lady is the wife of a producer in Hollywood. They have recently separated and Lady has hired a nanny. Esther, or S, is hired on to care for Lady’s youngest child, while also tiptoeing around Lady’s eighteen year-old son Seth. Seth is a selective mute who has never spoken, but is capable of basic sounds and laughter. After leaving Berkeley due to a breakup and art project gone awry, Esther decides that she will start a new art project where she attempts to relive the life of her mother. Woman No. 17 becomes the story of artistic tendencies, overdrinking, and horrifically bad decisions by people who don’t currently have to worry about money.
If it sounds like I’m disgusted with this book, its because I am. It isn’t that the book isn’t wonderfully written or compelling; the characters are just so deeply unlikable that even though the reader may feel a connection to them in the beginning, it is entirely understandable to want to watch them burn by the end of it. The characters create all of their own problems. Lady makes drunken confessions that made me cringe and want to put the book aside. Esther clearly has no desire to really keep a job. Woman No. 17 makes the reader anxious as the characters make one horrible decision after another. By the end, you may find yourself emotionally exhausted.
Woman No. 17 is now available from Hogarth Publishing.