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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, Icon_Feminist

    Feminist

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Literary

    Literary

  • Illustrated icon, Icons_Buzzy

    Buzzy

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_SalaciousPeach

    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.

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Content warning

This book contains mentions of sexual assault.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of Three Women.
Three Women

Prologue

When my mother was a young woman a man used to follow her to work every morning and masturbate, in step behind her.

My mother had only a fifth-grade education and a dowry of medium-grade linen dish towels, but she was beautiful. It’s still the first way I think of to describe her. Her hair was the color of the chocolates you get in the Tirolean Alps and she always wore it the same way—short curls piled high. Her skin was not olive like her family’s but something all its own, the light rose of inexpensive gold. Her eyes were sarcastic, flirtatious, brown.

She worked as the main cashier at a fruit and vegetable stand in the center of Bologna. This was on the Via San Felice, a long thoroughfare in the fashion district. There were many shoe stores, goldsmiths, perfumeries, tobacconists, and clothing stores for women who did not work. My mother would pass these boutiques on the way to her job. She would look into the windows at the fine leather of the boots and the burnished necklaces.

But before she came into this commercial zone she would have a quiet walk from her apartment, down little carless streets and alleys, past the locksmith and the goat butcher, through lonely porticoes filled with the high scent of urine and the dark scent of old water pooling in stone. It was through these streets that the man followed her.

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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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Member ratings (12,138)

  • Allie L.

    Walhalla, SC

    Sexuality for females has been oppressed throughout history, so nothing like this has been written before. Grateful that I’m not the only mom like Lina, or the only objectified girl like Maggie. 5/5⭐️

  • Jordan G.

    Austin, TX

    I cannot bow to these women’s stories enough. The writing was raw and beautiful and achy. The ending didn’t feel like enough closure, but thats the nature of non-fiction! These women are all of us. ????

  • Bethany M.

    Neptune Beach, FL

    Wow, perhaps this is copyright infringement but I had to take a pic of the “old lettuce” excerpt and forward it to several people. Merely spreading the word of how salaciously wonderful this book was.

  • Elizabeth C.

    Fort Walton Beach, FL

    This book will make you question things about yourself. Why you are the way you are, why you fall in love with the people you do, what you would do in these women’s situations...couldn’t put it down.

  • Hannah T.

    Pekin, IL

    I read other people’s reviews stating how they didn’t like this book and why. I read it out of order by reading each of the women’s stories through. I would have liked more closure but did love it.

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