BOOK REVIEW: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts and destroys our lives. It’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written.

We begin in suburban Indiana with Lina, a homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. She passes her days cooking and cleaning for a man who refuses to kiss her on the mouth, protesting that “the sensation offends” him. To Lina’s horror, even her marriage counselor says her husband’s position is valid. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks. When she reconnects with an old flame through social media, she embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming.

In North Dakota, we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who finds a confidant in her handsome, married English teacher. By Maggie’s account, supportive nightly texts and phone calls evolve into a clandestine physical relationship, with plans to skip school on her eighteenth birthday and make love all day; instead, he breaks up with her on the morning he turns thirty. A few years later, Maggie has no degree, no career, and no dreams to live for. When she learns that this man has been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, she steps forward with her story—and is met with disbelief by former schoolmates and the jury that hears her case. The trial will turn their quiet community upside down.

Finally, in an exclusive enclave of the Northeast, we meet Sloane—a gorgeous, successful, and refined restaurant owner—who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. He picks out partners for her alone or for a threesome, and she ensures that everyone’s needs are satisfied. For years, Sloane has been asking herself where her husband’s desire ends and hers begins. One day, they invite a new man into their bed—but he brings a secret with him that will finally force Sloane to confront the uneven power dynamics that fuel their lifestyle.

Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

My Thoughts:

A journalist named Lisa Taddeo spent a decade talking to women about their sex lives, asking questions, probing for details, encouraging them to open up and share. She then writes a book which tells – in an extraordinary act of ventriloquism – three of their stories. Two of the women have their identity protected by pseudonyms. The third wants her name to be known.

The first woman, Lina, is married to a man who will not kiss her on the mouth. Through social media, she reconnects with her teenage sweetheart – a married man – and seduces him into an all-consuming affair.

The second woman, Maggie, had sex with her English teacher whilst still only a teenager. The fallout from the affair, and ensuing court case, destroyed her life while her lover is named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year.

The third and last woman is Sloane, rich, thin and successful. She is married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with others. He picks out partners for her, and she works hard to satisfy his and their needs. She does not know how to explain or articulate her need to please others, until she reads 50 Shades of Grey.

Each of the three women carry secrets. Each have been harmed in some way. Each struggle to negotiate love, desire, and longing. Each of their stories is unique, personal, and yet somehow universal.

Astonishingly frank and intimate, this book is both shocking and yet heart-breaking. A tour-de-force of imaginative reporting.

You might also like to read my review of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean:

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Kate Forsyth
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