May 9, 2017 | Hogarth Books/Crown Publishing
In the Hollywood Hills, Lady (yes, she goes by Lady) Daniels has taken a break from her husband, telling him she needs time alone to write her memoirs. Now, left alone, she needs a hand taking care of her toddler son so she can actually write. She places a Craigslist ad, and hires S, a young artist, pretty much on the spot.
S (that’s the name she chooses) is magnetic, drawing not only toddler Devin into her orbit, but also Seth, Lady’s mute college age son. S becomes not only a babysitter, but also Lady’s con
fidante. Living in their secluded pool house, S starts to connect with Seth in ways that could be dangerous to them both.
As S grow
s closer to Lady, she starts to see a more vulnerable woman with secrets. At the same time, S is secretly working on her own, living art project — living in the guest house the way her mother lived at the same age. As part of the project, S anonymously accepts photographs from women across the internet showing them before they were mothers, but is caught off guard when she gets one from Lady.
And Lady, while writing her memoirs, is caught in memories of the past, when it was just her and Seth, remembering his dad, her mother, and all the promise and heartbreak of young life. She’s caught up in these memories when she learns her own mother has died, and old memories start to flood her.
As the heat and the isolation of the summer wears on both women, the secrets start to catch up on both Lady and S, causing them both to risk losing all they hold dear.
I read Woman No. 17 last spring. In looking at my To Be Reviewed list, I was very surprised to realize I hadn’t written a review! I was sure I had written my thoughts on Edan Lepucki’s take on mothers and daughters, I could even remember what I planned to write. It was a powerful book at a time in my life when mothers were on my mind.
And then I remembered why it hadn’t been written. Because it was about mothers and daughters.
It was just too hard to write it. Too emotionally draining.
See, I was going to write a Mother’s day post about Woman No. 17. But sitting down to write that post brought tears, and I was tired of crying. I wanted my memories without the emotional exhaustion of mourning.
Losing a mother is hard on so many levels.
Any way, thoughts on Woman No. 17.
Like I said, this book hit me hard on so many levels. As a mother, as a daughter who just lost her mother. As a woman.
I identified with both of these women. Both trying to figure out the lives of their mothers, and why they did the things they did.
Although Lady is very flawed and selfish, I understood her up to a point. Being a mother is hard, and, when you’re child is young, it takes over your whole identity. Lady, though, never really takes the time as an adult to find an identity, and, in writing her memoirs, she remembers her favorite version of herself.
S is different but similar. Young enough to still have time to find herself, she decides to take the time to decode her mother. S finds that it’s not so easy, and learns a lesson that took me YEARS to learn: the woman you know as mother is so much more. The flaws we grew up with and remember in our mothers are only part of who they are and were. They had whole lives before us — and sometimes being a mother is hard and difficult, isolating and lonely.
Sometimes it’s hard to know if you’re making mistakes as a mother. Usually you’re winging it, hoping for the best. You never know if you made the right decisions until your child is older, and then it’s too late.
So, although both Lady and S are incredibly flawed and making mistakes at nearly every turn, I understood them. I still wanted to shake them, but I was sympathetic.
Woman No. 17 is a book meant for book discussions, and is perfect for book clubs (or at least my book club). It’s one of those stories that causes different reactions depending on the reader, making it perfect for loud, rowdy book debates — the best kind!