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Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Narrative nonfiction

Three Women

Debut

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Lisa Taddeo, on your first book!

by Lisa Taddeo

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Quick Take

Fascinating, raw, and NSFW. Ten years of reporting is on full display, recounting women's complicated sex lives.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Feminist

    Feminist

  • Illustrated icon, Literary

    Literary

  • Illustrated icon, Buzzy

    Buzzy

  • Illustrated icon, Salacious

    Salacious

Synopsis

It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts, destroys our lives, and 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 and one of the most anticipated books of the year.

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.

Content warning

This book contains mentions of sexual assault.

Why I love it

Recently over drinks I asked a friend, “What’s the last book you read that you just couldn’t put down?” Without hesitation, she answered, Three Women. Now, I’m not usually a nonfiction reader—and I have a stack of half-read memoirs to prove it—but with this book, I have to agree with my friend: Three Women sucks you in from the very first page. After all, who would pass up a voyeuristic glimpse behind the bedroom doors (or in some cases, the classroom or car doors) of three real women?

Lisa Taddeo spent eight years and thousands of hours with the women profiled in Three Women, and she gives a shockingly vulnerable account of their sexual histories and innermost desires. There’s Maggie, a 23 year old in North Dakota involved in a court case against the high school teacher she had a physical relationship with as a minor. Lina is an Indiana housewife in a loveless marriage, embarking on an affair with her high school sweetheart. Finally, there’s Sloane, a glamorous 40-something in Newport, RI, who has sex with other men while her husband watches.

Despite having little in common with any of these women on the surface, I found a great deal of power and resonance in the depiction of their emotional lives and motivations. Who among us can’t relate to the fear of being alone or the desire to be loved—even by someone who isn’t exactly perfect? It's this emotional universality that has me predicting this book will be the nonfiction read of the summer.

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