I wasn't wild about Edan Lepucki's debut novel, California, but then, I'm a hard sell on dystopia. I did like her writing, and when I saw her second novel was not dystopic in the least, I thought I'd give it a try.
I have to report mixed results. This novel is told from two POVs: Lady Daniels (Lady is a childhood nickname that stuck), whose marriage is falling apart, who has sons from two different relationships, the older of which is mute, but not deaf. The other POV is that of the nanny Lady hires to care for her younger son while Lady writes a memoir about her older son. Esther, or S, as she asks to be called, takes the job for motivations unknown to Lady. But that's fair, because there's a lot going on with Lady that S doesn't know. And although they don't know it right away, they both have significant Mommy issues with their own mothers.
So there's conflicted parenthood, conflicted women, conflicted daughters, and around all of this, the art scene. It should be right up my alley, kind of a good pairing with Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs, which I loved. There's also some excellent writing, zippy imagery, darkly funny lines, and some wildly honest writing about being a mother.
But. Here's the funny thing. I figured I'd be most interested in Lady's story, since I'm closer in age and life stage to her, but by the end, she annoyed me. She's somewhat unlikable, usually a plus to me--love a good unlikable character--but she just feels shallow and whiny. In contrast, S is a young 20-something who has plenty of issues, but somehow she was far more interesting to me. Even though chapters alternated between the two, it's pretty much Lady's book. I ended wanting more of S, a lot more, and S's ending felt just dropped into place rather than fully fleshed out.
Yet Lepucki's writing is strong enough that I will definitely read her next book. And kudos to her for not just recycling her work in California, but striking out into new territory.