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Three Women

Review

Three Women

At the start of her outstanding debut, THREE WOMEN, Lisa Taddeo mentions that she knew she wanted to write a book about the origins and expression of human desire. At first, she thought she would write about men. Soon, however, she realized that men’s desires have always been at the forefront of our consciousness, right out in the open (sometimes literally, as in her opening anecdote about a man who would repeatedly follow her mother to and from work each day in their Italian town, masturbating the entire way). Much less openly discussed, but no less real, Taddeo realizes, are women’s desires, which are rarely the topic of public discourse or talked about even in the most intimate circles.

So Taddeo set out on an eight-year cross-country odyssey to uncover women’s stories of desire. She admits that --- as is to be expected with any book based on fact --- some of the stories she initially pursued were not fruitful enough to be worth exploring here; some subjects wound up backing out and withdrawing their stories for fear of exposure. What Taddeo ended up with was, as the book’s title suggests, the accounts of three very different women from three different areas of the country. Their circumstances and outlook could not be more dissimilar, but they are united by the way Taddeo lays bare their experience of sex and desire, for better or for worse.

"Taddeo manages to take these true stories (the authenticity of which she is careful to corroborate with tangible details gleaned from extensive interviews) and make them as compellingly readable as any novel."

Maggie is the one woman profiled whose name has not been changed to protect her privacy. That’s because her story was already a matter of public record. As Taddeo recounts, Maggie was a 17-year-old high school student when she began an inappropriate relationship with her English teacher, a popular, athletic, married man who also coached the debate team and advised other clubs. The abrupt end to their relationship sent the once-promising student into a tailspin of secret despair and self-doubt. But when, a few years later, he was named North Dakota Teacher of the Year, she felt compelled to make her story public. Readers will eagerly argue Maggie’s motivation in bringing these events to light. Did she desire revenge? Protection for other girls? Or a hope of reconciliation?

Over in Indiana, Lina has been married to the same man for over a decade. Her husband barely touches her anymore; he even rejects the passionate kisses she craves. Feeling trapped and frustrated, Lina reaches out via Facebook to her high school boyfriend, Aidan, who she still views as having redeemed her from a horrible act of sexual violence that she survived when she was a teenager. They begin an affair, but it’s up to readers to decide if the relationship is one of equals, if Lina is empowering or debasing herself by pursuing this man.

Finally, in Newport, Rhode Island, glamorous restaurant owner Sloane has a seemingly satisfying sex life with her husband, the restaurant’s chef, Richard. The two have sex nearly every day, and both are still very much in love. But a threesome early in their marriage has grown into a regular pursuit, with Richard routinely requesting to watch his wife have sex with both men and women. Sloane, who once battled anorexia and bulimia, likes to think that she’s in control of her sexual life now. However, when an encounter goes wrong, she is forced to assess her own agency.

If the above capsule synopses sound like fiction, that’s no accident. Taddeo manages to take these true stories (the authenticity of which she is careful to corroborate with tangible details gleaned from extensive interviews) and make them as compellingly readable as any novel. She alternates the women’s stories, and fills out contemporary events with backstories that make the ladies themselves --- not to mention their motivations and, yes, their desires --- come vividly to life on the page. THREE WOMEN is also frank in its depictions of sex. But at the end of the day, it’s the complicated, too often untold or unheard frankness about women’s attempts to define themselves as healthy, functioning sexual beings, that will spark keen discussion and debate.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on July 12, 2019

Three Women
by Lisa Taddeo

  • Publication Date: July 9, 2019
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction, Sexuality
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Avid Reader Press/Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1451642296
  • ISBN-13: 9781451642292