“We don’t remember what we want to remember. We remember what we can’t forget.”
Journalist Taddeo reports on the risks women take to fulfill their sexual desires. The result of eight years and thousands of hours of interviews, the book describes how each of her three subjects is undone by an intimate relationship that eventually damaged her.
Maggie, a troubled 23-year-old in Fargo, N.Dak., recalls how her high school English teacher seduced her at 17 after learning she’d slept with a man twice her age. When he’s named statewide teacher of the year five years later, she reports their affair to the police; townspeople quickly label her “a freaky slut.”
Indiana wife and mother Lina, married to a man who refuses to kiss her, reconnects on Facebook with high school crush Aidan. Their affair, perfunctory on his end, is played out in parked cars while she becomes “a tangle of need and anxiety.”
Forty-something Sloane, “beautiful and skinny,” runs a successful Newport, R.I., restaurant with her chef husband who chooses her sexual partners and watches them have sex. Sloane believes her marriage to be secure yet had to “constantly reassess what kind of woman she was.”
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is a compelling documentary of the lives of three real American women, focusing on their relationships, desires and self-discovery. It is quite tough to read because of its unforgiving portrayal of dysfunctional and confusing relationships. The stories discussed in the book are all considered taboo: a student-teacher affair, polygamous sexual relations, adultery, and teenage sex.
I believe that the goal of the author when she started this project spanning almost a decade of conversations is to present these stories as valuable additions to the discussion of the nature of female desire. They are not meant to be a full reportage on the subject, but rather a highly focused exploration of the nuances of women’s wants. To borrow Lisa Taddeo’s words, these are stories to help us comprehend, not condemn.
“It’s the nuances of desire that hold the truth of who we are at our rawest moments. I set out to register the heat and sting of female want so that men and other women might more easily comprehend before they condemn. Because it’s the quotidian moments of our lives that will go on forever, that will tell us who we were, who our neighbors and our mothers were, when we were too diligent in thinking they were nothing like us. This is the story of three women.”
When I began this book, it took me a while to process the writing style. It felt a bit all over the place, with an inconsistent pace, and there are just too many things going on too soon. You also never know where the story will go or what will be the point of a certain paragraph or chapter. Further on I realized that the author might be doing this on purpose, or even if she did not it still felt appropriate for the topic at hand. Since the subject is all about controversial relations, the narrative also reflected that feeling of chaos and uncertainty. I have to admire the author’s great efforts to even attempt to put this intense amount of thoughts and emotions into a book and make them alive. These are far more complicated than anything I’ve ever read because they are real; and because they are real they are also more devastating. There are a lot of embellishments but there’s a whole lot of honesty as well.
“We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.”
These women–Maggie, Lina and Sloane–are considered the “not normal” or “problematic” but always there is an element of relatability, that feeling that I have been there before. I have cried the same tears and felt the same fears. It definitely challenges our concept of what is acceptable, and the standards we have set as a society. I understand now that the reason this book became so popular and well-loved is because there are so many women out there who were finally able to meet someone else who felt the same feelings they thought were only theirs alone. Those who are new to these kinds of conflicts will at least have a shocking but factual eye-opener, hopefully leading to a new level of empathy.
“The way the wind blows in our country can make us question who we are in our own lives. Often the type of waiting women do is to make sure other women approve, so that they may also approve of themselves.”
In terms of feminism, I would agree this book is highly feminist, but not exactly in a smash-the-patriarchy sort of way, but more on how it exposes female weaknesses but doesn’t make the gender look stupid or lesser. It is only because of our inherent vulnerability and empathy that makes us targets for predators, but it is also because of our resilience and strength that we always survive. Though very specific in their own situations, the perspective of these brave women who shared their stories is definitely a step towards the right direction of understanding the complexities of women’s sexuality and desire. The first step is to recognize that we all have desires as women, and it is complex and unique to every one. It is affected by innumerous elements including childhood, educational background, and goals in life.
In the end the three women sort of blur together and the sentiments almost blend to make one powerful multifaceted female entity. It is also absolutely unsatisfying, with no sense of closure at all and it left me feeling bereft for some time. But like anything in real life there is no other choice but to move forward, and learn from the experience.
“The rumours, as usual, didn’t take into account the complexity, much less the truth.”
For me this is literary nonfiction at its finest — read it with an open mind and try to suspend judgment. It is not here to normalize adultery or promiscuity. In fact it shows how these kinds of interactions can destroy the self. It suggests the notion that a healthy sex life is directly related to a healthy mental state and will be found where and when we feel whole as a person. More than anything this book is here to make us realize that no matter how much we think we already know all about women, at the end of the day we are still very far away from the truth.
“Women shouldn’t judge each others lives, if we haven’t been through one another’s fires.”
About the Author
Lisa Taddeo has contributed to New York, Esquire, Elle, Glamour, and many other publications. Her nonfiction has been included in the anthologies Best American Sports Writing and Best American Political Writing, and her short stories have won two Pushcart Prizes. She lives with her husband and daughter in New England.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published July 9th 2019 by Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
ISBN 1451642296 (ISBN13: 9781451642292)
Setting: Indiana (United States), North Dakota (United States)
Literary Awards: Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Nonfiction (2019)
Genres: Nonfiction | Feminism