Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

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As the title suggests, this nonfiction book follows the stories of three women as they tell their stories of desire and the traumatic experiences tied to their desire. Lyrically written and deeply probing, the reader is introduced to Maggie, Lina, and Sloane piece by piece.

When I first picked this book up, I expected something different based on the narrative spun on social media and in marketing campaigns surrounding it. Make no mistake— this book is a story about sex and desire, but it is about sex and desire through the lens of trauma. Perhaps a bit because of this misconception I picked up, I found the book as a whole fell a bit flat for me. True as that may be, the writing is undeniably beautiful. Taddeo writes nonfiction as though it is the most moving piece of fiction and shows deep sensitivity when writing about challenging topics ranging from sexual assault to the inappropriate, manipulative behavior of an authority figure in a young woman’s life. However, I realized after putting the book down that the book as a whole came off as aloof and arms-length to me because the author is regurgitating other people’s stories, even if she did so beautifully. I would have loved this book so much more if the author had left her own footprint within these pages and bared some of her soul, instead of relying on the baring of others’.

There were a number of things I really appreciated about this book, despite not finding it as awe-inspiring as many have. I continually noted throughout my reading that the author speaks with complete objectivity, even in the most extreme cases. She leaves all the space in the world for a reader to come up with their own conclusions, face their own feelings on the story, evaluate and recalibrate their biases, and consider the roles of sex and desire in each instance. In particular, the story of Maggie—a young woman who fell into an inappropriate, underage relationship with her high school English teacher— spotlights the unequal perceptions of men and women in the eyes of society. Constantly looked down upon and blamed for the situation, Maggie is disparaged and broken by a relationship that should never have happened. I had to constantly remind myself that her high school teacher was in the wrong because of the nature Taddeo’s writing. I’m sure this was completely intentional and it was a really impactful, telling technique. The high school teacher was so clearly in the wrong and engages in disgusting both in engaging with Maggie and in his behavior as he denies the relationship, yet he is painted as a hero by most of his peers, even when the evidence is right there. A real takeaway from this book is the antiquity and inequality of the roles of men and women when sex and desire are concerned.

I also appreciated Taddeo’s sex positive approach to the story of Sloane, even as she peeled back the layers of trauma buried within her life. The need for more narratives around sex is very real, and I think this book is a step in that direction.

Overall? I was expecting something different and perhaps partially due to that, I wasn’t blown away by this book. I found it unique and impactful at times, though I would have felt much better about the work as a whole had the author included herself in the stories, rather than telling other’s stories from on high.

Thank you to Avid Reader Press for the review copy of this book! All opinions are completely my own.

PUBLICATION DETAILS: July 9th, 2019; Avid Reader Press; 9781451642292; 320 pp; Nonfiction -> Human Sexuality / Feminist Reads