Review: Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Woman No. 17

Edan Lepucki

May 9, 2017 | Hogarth Books/Crown Publishing

Literary fiction


 

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.

snow bunny mom
My mom, skiing. Or getting ready to ski.

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!

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Letting the Little Angers Go + CRM Review: “The Unseen World” by Liz Moore

10689830_10204796102963790_4910210136918653776_nOur Katybug is a bit of a Zen master. She’s very good at helping us put things into perspective. She has a way of forcing us out of our everyday rat-race cycle–you know, that whole groove that your life gets into? That groove, that when One. Little. Thing gets in the way or goes wrong, and you lose it because that One. Little. Thing just slowed your roll.

I call them

THE LITTLE ANGERS

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Those little eruptions that cause you to use the bad words under your breath. Those things that ruin you day just a little.

Katy’s world is very people driven. It isn’t about the ‘things’ that get in her way–she doesn’t let them ruin her moments. for her it’s all about how to make the day better, how to make herself and those around her happy from moment to moment.

(Note to all: There is no stereotypical individual with Down syndrome. There is no one individual that fits that stereotype “they’re always happy!” That includes Katy. She has her ups and downs, and she cries quite a bit. But her personality is more happy than not. That’s just her personality.)

Lately (since about this past summer) she’s been taking larger and larger exceptions to our little angers. When we trip over the shoe in the hallway or can’t get the remote to change the channel and let the bad words spew from our mouths (and we might get ‘angry eyebrows,’ as she calls it). When we get upset, she gets upset.

Katy (after an eruption of little anger): “Are you mad at me (or anyone else in my immediate vicinity)?”

Me (or whoever has erupted): “No, I’m mad at the (shoes, remote, t.v., whatever  . . .)”

Katy: “Oh, okay.”

Except one day, not too long ago, when I was particularly upset about the dishes not fitting JUST RIGHT into the dishwasher. This was the moment Katy did her Zen thing and put it all in perspective.

“Mom, the dishes can’t help it. Just do what you can and deal with it.”

DUH!!!

She’s right. All those Little Angers just raise the blood pressure and do nothing to alleviate the situation.

See-Zen. For Katy, a hug is real. A smile is real. Those are the things that should matter. I’m in charge of the dishwasher. The dishes can’t do anything — they can’t change their placement or their size or shape (or color for that matter–but how cool would it be if they COULD!!!).

Of course, she doesn’t see that sometimes getting angry at the dishes in the dishwasher is just a way to redirect the anger I feel at someone else. A boss, a client, a spouse. Sometimes it’s nice to vent over that door that won’t close right rather than the ruin a relationship that you need to remain intact. In other words, screaming at an inanimate object is much safer than yelling at your boss.

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But, beyond that, I’ll try to take the lesson. I’ll stop getting angry at the remote or the dishes or the door. At least while Katy’s around.

Now, onto my thoughts on The Unseen World by Liz Moore.


“Only humans can hurt one another, Ada thought; only humans falter and betray one another with a stunning, fearsome frequency. As David’s family had done to him; as David had done to her. And Ada would do it too. She would fail other people throughout her life, inevitably, even those she loved best.”
Liz Moore, The Unseen World

The Premise

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, computers and what the could do were the future. And David Sibleius was in the forefront of this new world.

And he’s raising his daughter to understand it all. As a single father, David teaches takes her to his computer lab at a Boston university, where he sort of home schools her. She’s part of the lab, understanding their research and mathematics at an early age. More comfortable with this group of adults than children, Ada longs for friends her own age, but is content in her cocoon.

One of the lab’s projects is a computer program called Elixir, which is a very early form of artificial intelligence. Throughout their lift together, both David and Ada use Elixir as a sort of diary, chronicling their lives, but there is so much more that it is learning to do.

At 12 and 13, Ada starts to notice cognitive changes in David. He starts forgetting basic things, gets flustered and angry more easily, and disappears for longer periods of time. After prodding by his friend Liston (a lab assistant and a single parent herself), David sees a doctor, and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. His condition deteriorates quickly, and soon after he’s placed in a nursing home.

Suddenly Ada is forced into the world. She moves in with Liston and her three boys. She’s thrust into Catholic school, where she must learn the rules, both written and unwritten.

Ada also starts to realize that the few things she did know about her father are not real, and that she has no idea who he is. While coming of age in a new world, Ada must also unravel the mystery of her father.

With the help of the lab and Elixir (where David left clues to his true identity and his life before Ada), Ada attempts to unravel the story of her father. Where The Unseen World can finally be seen.

My Thoughts

The Unseen World is a beautiful story. Multi-layered and multi-dimensional, this book has so many facets that blend beautifully.

At its heart, The Unseen World is a coming of age story for the most socially awkward of teenagers. But it’s got a bit of everything: history, illness, family, love.

The computer science component is fascinating, taking readers back to a time when being ‘online’ was fantasy, and the precursors for the things that run our lives were being imagined and created from 0’s and 1’s.

The Unseen World also gives readers a glimpse at the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s, and the fast decline that can come from it.

But mostly this is a tale of Ada and her difficulty in adjusting not only to the ‘real’ world (as a young teen!), but also the mystery of who David really was, and hows and whys of how he became to be David Sibelius, the father of Ada.

Set mostly in the 1980’s, this book jumps forward with Ada to 2009, and backward with David to his earlier years.

I  loved The Unseen World. It’s different and smart, but with a lot of heart. Ada is a great character, and David’s great mystery brings it all together.

spicoli-awesome5 stars. Intelligent, heartfelt and original.