Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be completely known? Your deepest desires revealed, respected and sated? In Lisa Taddeo’s book, Three Women, I was able to live in the skin of three women: Lina, Maggie and Sloane through Taddeo’s immersive journalism in narrative form. Taddeo uses her investigative and observational skills to literally disappear into the lives of three women to tell their stories of lust, love and desire.
At its core, Three Women is a story about desire on the margin of acceptance, where society often judges women who unabashedly express their wants and needs. The expression of female desire can be unsettling for women. It upends the patriarchy and all that is familiar, safe and expected in the female code of conduct. Taddeo chose her subjects to express three examples of female desire on the fringes, a marital affair, an illicit relationship between a high school teacher and his student, and a married couple in an open relationship.
Lina is having a long term, sexually-charged affair with a former high school boyfriend. Maggie was involved with her high school teacher as a teenage student and is now seeking retribution in the courts. Sloane, a privileged WASP, works with her husband in a restaurant they own and sleeps with other men at her husband’s request.
All three women experience desire in encounters that are both euphoric and soul-searing, rendered in graphic detail. Taddeo recreates the women’s’ inner lives with such lucidity that at times, I wondered much of the narrative is embellished and imagined for dramatic effect. (How is it possible for anyone to remember in such granular detail, events of the past?) I only pondered the authenticity of these sometimes overwrought accounts because the book is a work of nonfiction. Three Women is a titillating and insightfully honest read about desire’s nuances and truths revealing who we are at our most vulnerable selves.
The book’s open-ended ending leaves me with many questions. What becomes of these three women and the trajectories of their desires? I’m left searching for a takeaway. Should desire be something we contain, doled out in measured doses with the self-discipline of a weight loss diet? If so, what has all this control brought us?
In the epilogue, the author’s dying mother whispers her final words of advice: “Don’t let other women see you happy.” The implication being that women hate on women who are happy, content, and self-actualized. That brand of self-evolution intimidates the sisterhood, holding up a mirror to its own collective lack of courage and deficiencies in the face of needs, wants and sexual desires. Perhaps the takeaway from Three Women is the myth of sisterhood, a false camaraderie that propels and compels us to self-sacrifice for a higher purpose of “I’ve got your back.” I highly recommend this insightful and intimate look into female desire as an anthropological and entertaining read. I also suggest it for a book club pick because it is sure to stimulate thought-provoking conversations and confessions.