Review: Woman No. 17

by Edan Lepucki
Hogarth/Crown, 2017

Cycles of addiction, neglect, or “maternal bad choices” tend to revolve through generations. Relationships between mothers and their children fuel the compelling-if-somewhat-tangled plot of Woman No. 17. Complex dynamics between the mom (Lady), The Sitter (S), and her charges (Devin, 3, and Seth, 18) play out while The Sitter attempts to sort her own “mom-issues” and Lady wavers between divorce or reconciliation with her absent husband. Seth is selectively mute, and expresses himself in various innovative ways. In fact, he's probably my favorite character in this literary novel. In a world where disability is often shunned, or at best, accommodated, Seth displays heroic qualities and carries the keystone weight in essential arcs of the book. Images of contemporary Los Angeles rivet Lepucki’s narrative, including sparkling swimming pool scenes and tense, driving-down-the-freeway misadventures. The title refers to a gallery photograph hidden in Lady’s closet, not to a series of mistresses.

Torrey Douglass