“It’s the nuances of desire that hold the truth of who we are at our rawest moments.”
Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.
The moment I saw the publisher’s blurb for Three Women, I knew it was something I wanted to read. Seeing it listed on various “most anticipated” lists and then hearing an interview with the author on another favorite podcast (Professional Book Nerds) my anticipation grew.
Because I had a few Audible credits banked, I preordered the book, and the morning it became available I began listening.
Who is the author?
Lisa Taddeo is a journalist whose fiction has won Pushcart Prizes (2017, 2019) and whose nonfiction has appeared in Best American Political Writing and Best American Sports Writing.
For her debut, she spent eight years driving across the country and embedded herself with three ordinary American women.
The writer in me is impressed, but not at all surprised. I know how much time a writing project can take, especially one steeped heavily in research.
When looking over some of her stories and essays, I noticed one piece in particular published in Esquire (April 2015) titled “The First Kind of Man” that made me wonder if it had been attached to this project at one time.
As far as audiobooks are concerned, this one is well done and easy to follow. The author reads her prologue, but each of the three women are narrated by an actor of similar age. After the prologue (edited version available via NPR) , the book alternates between each woman’s story and is more or less is told from each of their points of view.
Who are the three women?
Maggie | 8 sections (about 233 minutes via the audiobook; voiced by Tara Lynne Barr)
A seventeen-year-old high school student who has an inappropriate relationship with her married teacher. Several years after he ends their relationship, she finds out he has been named Teacher of the Year and decides to come forward with her story. **She is the only woman whose named and identifying details aren’t changed.**
Lina | 6 sections (about 164 minutes via the audiobook; voiced by Marin Ireland)
A homemaker and mother of two whose decade-old marriage has soured despite seeking help via marriage counseling. She ends up having an affair with a high school boyfriend who she reconnects with via Facebook as an adult. Her affair becomes all-consuming and her actions remind me of a woman in love first the first time.
Sloane | 5 sections (about 164 minutes via the audiobook; voiced by Mena Suvari)
An attractive and successful restaurant owner who is happily married and has sex with other men and women because her husband likes to watch (and sometimes participate). She’s unsure if she really shares the same desire as her husband or if she is just fulfilling his fantasies.
During an NPR interview, Taddeo was asked about any insight she had gained about the way women experience sexual desire and she explained:
“[Women] experience desire in a very complex way,” instead of being compartmentalized, it “lives at the top of our brains at every moment.”
I think this complex desire, both sexual and emotional, is palpable within each woman detailed throughout the book. And this made it easy for me to identify with Maggie, Lina, and Sloane despite not having lived their lives.
I felt especially connected to Maggie as she details how devasted she was when the relationship between her and her English teacher ends. It begins in a wholesome place but takes a turn and grows into something unruly and inappropriate.
The most time is spent on her story, and because names haven’t been changed I ended up looking up more about her case (it goes to court) and its aftermath when I was done with the book.
I like that we get to know 15-year-old Lina and her feelings toward Aidan when they first meet, “It’s like her bones are magnetically drawn to his bones.”
This glimpse foreshadows the longing she has for him as an adult while she is contemplating leaving her marriage. All the sneaking around and desperate encounters they have together reminded me of the affair in one of my favorite books, Little Children by Tom Perrotta.
Although I felt less connected to her story, the relationship between her and her husband is fascinating; especially when the emotional mechanics of their arrangement are detailed:
I noticed, it was when emotions were involved things got especially complicated, especially for her. Any shift in power dynamics and the whole thing can fall.
If nothing else, these three stories solidified my believe that unless you are one of the people involved in a relationship (platonic, romantic, sexual, or otherwise), you really have no idea what’s going on.
In keeping with #Booksquad tradition of rating books, I give this 4 out of 5 stars.
Since its release, it has been on the New York Times Bestseller’s list (Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction). The library I usually borrow from has had an estimated 11 week wait since it came out. So, I went ahead and purchased a copy of the eBook so I can revisit and highlight sections I enjoy.
There have been some mixed reviews, which I get.
For example, all three stories just stop when the book stops, but we know their lives continue. So, I felt a bit unsatisfied. In the Author’s Note at the beginning, Taddeo reminds us that these specific women are in charge of their narratives, so it is what it is.
I still wonder about these women, especially Maggie and Lina. After such an intimate romp through their inner lives, I want to know more.
There is a noted lack of diversity, too.
Again, in the Author’s Note, Taddeo explains she restricted herself to only speaking to women who were open to talking on the record without holding anything back. She also reveals several subjects decided halfway through that they were afraid of being exposed.
Is it possible that only someone who shares characteristics with the author would be willing to speak so intimately with her? Maybe? I don’t know.
I’m curious if now that the book is out, if there could be another volume. What’s happening with these three women now? Also, I know I’d be up to reading about three more women, especially a more diverse set.
It’s been announced that Showtime has picked up Three Women and Taddeo will be an executive producer and writer for the drama series, I’m interested to see what else can come from this project.
Although she claims Memphis as home, Janet Dale lives in southeast Georgia where she teaches first year writing at Georgia Southern University and is always reading something (including submissions for Nightjar Review). Her work has appeared in Hobart, Zone 3, Pine Hills Review, Really System, and others.