Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo
July 9 2019
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.
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.
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.
“A deeply reported, elegantly written, almost uncomfortably intimate portrait of three American women . . . Taddeo reveals something universal in each of their stories . . . The result is a nonfiction book that feels as close to its subjects as a novel, like Adrien Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family, or Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down.”
—Matt Haber, Columbia Journalism Review
“What makes Three Women so remarkable and indelible, and also so refreshingly out-of-step with the tenor of the present moment, is Taddeo’s refusal to judge these ‘characters.’ She is not particularly interested in determining who is right, who is wrong, and who is to blame. Intensity and compulsion draw her to these stories like tractor beams. What most fascinates her is how sexual desire transfigures the entire tissue of a personality and changes the course of lives.”
—Laura Miller, Slate
“Three Women is a battle cry. . . . Taddeo never judges. She doesn’t slip into pseudopsychological frameworks for sex. She inhabits her subjects. And if you think her topic sounds a little louche, or isn’t quite your thing, the true magic of this book may lie less in the subject matter and more in the style. . . . It’s the literary brilliance of the book that will knock you back–how she channels these women’s voices through her own. . . . For anyone who thinks they know what women want, this book is an alarm, and its volume is turned all the way up.”
—Lea Carpenter, Time
“The hype for Three Women is real. In fact, it’s insufficient. . . . Each sentence glows with an insight you won’t want to forget.”
—Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29
“Searing . . . The stories of Taddeo’s subjects, Sloane, Lina and Maggie, all feature the illicit—threesomes, dominance and submission, underage sex—and each includes a hefty dose of good old-fashioned adultery. . . . The result is effective and affecting. . . . Taddeo reveals an avalanche of evidence, as if we needed more, that the cozy comforts of marriage and its defining, confining attribute, monogamy, provide the perfect petri dish for combustible sex—with someone other than your spouse.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Intensively reported . . . An immersion course in the rituals and consciousness of individuals expressing their desires . . . You come away disturbed, entertained, jolted, and ultimately longing for a cigarette.”
—Boris Kachka, Vulture