In Edan Lepucki’s new novel Woman No. 17, a middle-aged Hollywood Hills mother named Lady and her live-in nanny, known only as S, find themselves taking creative liberties with the employer-employee power dynamic, as well as with their own identities. Lepucki and I recently sat down to breakfast on the sun-drenched patio of The Sycamore Kitchen in LA, where we spoke about the sex appeal of the humble egg, the happy accident of her literary homage to Joan Didion, and the often questionable morning cravings that Lady, S, and other characters experience throughout her novel.
Extra Crispy: You’d think that I’d be reaching if I tried to tie your book directly to breakfast for this interview but, really, breakfast foods do play a pretty big role.
Edan Lepucki: There’s a lot of breakfast. There are a lot of eggs.
There are. I think you’re the foremost fictional egg writer of our generation.
Well, eggs are my favorite food, in that I eat them almost every day. They’re the most dynamic food: I like them hard-boiled, you can make them sunny side up, you can put them in a custard—you can just eat them all the time.
At one point in the book, Lady looks back on this delicious but completely damaged relationship of her youth, and remembers with fondness—yearning, almost—the way that her ex poached eggs.
I think poached eggs are really sexy. They’re also very beautiful to me: the white of the egg is somehow whiter than any other egg preparation, and then you cut it open and it’s like spilling out…am I the only person who finds them really sexy? One time I was talking to this guy I had a crush on, and after he started talking about how much he liked poached eggs I realized I was blushing. Later in the book, Lady makes an omelet for S, so that’s another egg.
You also have a scene where Lady is a young, first time mother—
She burns the egg! That’s happened to me. I was with my son Bean; he was really young and I must have started hard-boiling an egg and then just totally forgot about it. In my mind, I was like what’s that smell, and it took me a really long time until I finally went into the kitchen and the egg was totally burnt.
Before that happened, Lady was anticipating what she would do: “When it’s ready, I plan to unpeel this egg and then roll it in salt and bite into it like an apple as I stand over the sink.”
Which is how I would eat it. I really like the novel Play It as It Lays, and I didn’t purposely do this but, looking back, in that novel [Maria] is driving on the freeway and she’s eating a hard-boiled egg. Of course I’m forgetting the plot details, but there’s something where she’s also separated from her husband and she can’t have access to her child. And the egg is a symbol of fertility, so it’s like a hard-boiled fertility in that novel. After I had a couple of eggs in my novel, they just kept coming up, and I was like okay, let’s just go with this—
[Two dishes of pork belly hash, topped with fried eggs, are placed on the table in front of us.]
Oh, those are beautiful.
What do you put on it, hot sauce?
I don’t put anything on it. I don’t often make my own eggs because I usually eat the same thing for breakfast six times a week—a whole wheat English muffin with peanut butter and jelly. I just really like how it tastes with coffee. Patrick, my husband, is usually making eggs for himself and our kids, and then he’ll make me one also. Because I’m just always so hungry.
In addition to all the eggs in your book, there are a lot of obscure, or even absurd foods. I wouldn’t call them breakfasts, necessarily, but I saw them as morning cravings: a boiled Costco hot dog, a piece of cake, a dive bar vodka soda. And then there are more traditional things, like pour over coffee. I ended up feeling like each craving was a sort of prism through which the reader could see the character’s truest self. Do you think that’s true of all of us?
That’s interesting. I always eat the same thing, so I’m pretty stable and unexciting. But I feel like the novel is so much about our basest desires, and also about both characters trying to be something they’re not. So, yeah, you would think that whatever they’re craving in the morning is what they can’t deny. And someone like S’s mother, for all her faults, is only herself. So if she wants to eat a plain hot dog from Costco, she will do that without any reservations.
There’s a part in the novel where S says, “Even if I had fallen in love with Berkeley, which I certainly had not, I had to return to LA. It was home.” You’re a born and raised Angeleno who, after spending the past several years in Berkeley, is returning to LA. How do the weekend breakfast scenes in the two cities compare?
I don’t think the breakfast scene is as stellar [in Berkeley]. There are a lot of breakfast places here [in LA] that I love…in the Bay Area, I think they excel at things like coffee and bread—like, they have very, very good bread available everywhere—and their focus on locally grown.
There are a number of hangover scenes in your book. What’s your own tried and true remedy?
A Coke is the best hangover food. A greasy breakfast and a Coke.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.