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Three Women Paperback – July 7, 2020
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“Staggeringly intimate...Groundbreaking.” —Entertainment Weekly
“A breathtaking and important book.” —Cheryl Strayed
“Extraordinary...A nonfiction literary masterpiece.” —Elizabeth Gilbert
#1 New York Times Bestseller and a Best Book of the Year by: The Washington Post * NPR * The Atlantic * New York Public Library * Vanity Fair * PBS * Time * Economist * Entertainment Weekly * Financial Times * Shelf Awareness * Guardian * Sunday Times * BBC * Esquire * Good Housekeeping * Elle * Real Simple * And more
A riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women “who are carnal, brave, and beautifully flawed” (People, Book of the Week), based on nearly a decade of reporting.
Lina, a young mother in suburban Indiana whose marriage has lost its passion, reconnects with an old flame through social media and embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming. Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student in North Dakota, allegedly engages in a relationship with her married English teacher; the ensuing criminal trial turns their quiet community upside down. Sloane, a successful restaurant owner in an exclusive enclave of the Northeast, is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women.
Hailed as “a dazzling achievement” (Los Angeles Times) and “a riveting page-turner that explores desire, heartbreak, and infatuation in all its messy, complicated nuance” (The Washington Post), Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women has captivated readers, booksellers, and critics—and topped bestseller lists—worldwide. Based on eight years of immersive research, it is “an astonishing work of literary reportage” (The Atlantic) that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.
—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and City of Girls
“Three Women is a masterpiece. . . . Taddeo spent eight years immersed in the romantic, sexual, and emotional lives of three women. . . . No doubt, you’ll find parts of yourself in these women.”
—Caitlin Brody, Vanity Fair
“An astonishing work of literary reportage . . . As Lisa Taddeo writes about her subjects, the women she uses to map out an anthropological, humane, passionate study of female desire, she seems almost to inhabit them. . . . A fascinating appraisal of a subject few writers have approached so intently.”
—Sophie Gilbert, The Atlantic
“The hottest book of the summer . . . Taddeo spent eight years reporting this groundbreaking book, moving across the country and back again in her staggeringly intimate foray into the sexual lives and desires of three ‘ordinary’ women. Tragedy and despair lurk in each of their stories, but Taddeo’s dynamic writing brings them all to breathtaking life.”
“Taddeo spent a decade immersed in the sex lives of three ordinary American woman. . . . The result is the most in-depth look at the female sex drive and all its accompanying social, emotional, reproductive, and anthropological implications that’s been published in decades. But it’s also fully immersive: gonzo journalism without the machismo.”
“This nonfiction look at the sex lives of three American women will be whispered about around pools from coast to coast.”
—Town & Country
“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
“A dazzling achievement . . . Three Women burns a flare-bright path through the dark woods of women’s sexuality. In sentences that are as sharp—and bludgeoning, at times—as an ax, she retains the accuracy and integrity of nonfiction but risks the lyrical depths of prose and poetry.”
—Margaret Wappler, Los Angeles Times
“A revolutionary look at women’s desire, this feat of journalism reveals three women who are carnal, brave, and beautifully flawed.”
—People (Book of the Week)
“An extraordinary study of female desire . . . To write this kind of nonfiction—it’s true, but reads like a novel—Taddeo smartly employs not only interviews but also diary entries, legal documents, letters, emails and text messages. The result is a book as exhaustively reported and as elegantly written as Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers or Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family. . . . Taddeo’s language is at its best—sublime, even—when she describes the pain of desire left unfulfilled.”
—Elizabeth Flock, The Washington Post
“Three Women reads like a nonfiction novel in the deeply embedded, richly detailed vein of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. . . . It’s Taddeo’s deep, almost feverish commitment to detail and context that elevates the stories, making them feel not just painfully real but revelatory. In her efforts to explore ‘the nuances of desire that hold the truth of who we are at our rawest moments,’ she actually does much more: By peeling back the layers with such clear-eyed compassion, Taddeo illuminates the essential, elemental mystery of what it is to be a woman in the world.”
—Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly
“The protagonists in Lisa Taddeo’s new book, Three Women, are not unusual in their complicated sexual histories; what makes their stories revolutionary is the exquisite candor with which Taddeo gives them voice. In the tradition of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family or Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Taddeo’s book—her first—is a work of deep observation, long conversations, and a kind of journalistic alchemy. Taddeo spent years with the subjects of Three Women, and the investment pays off. . . . She seamlessly weaves together everyday details and startlingly intimate moments into narratives that feel as real, as vital, as the pulse in your wrist. . . . As the three women’s tales alternate, Taddeo narrates with a magically light touch, inhabiting each so fully we feel as if we’re living alongside them. The book is sexually explicit—you might blush when reading it—but it never feels gratuitous or clinical. Its prose is gorgeous, nearly lyrical as it describes the longings and frustrations that propel these ordinary women. Blending the skills of an ethnographer and a poet, Taddeo renders them extraordinary.”
—Kate Tuttle, NPR
“Three Women explores female desire in intimate detail, creating an emotionally charged work of nonfiction that’s as propulsive as any thriller.”
—The A.V. Club
“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
“An emotionally powerful and narratively enthralling portrait of these women’s—and indeed many women’s—wants, needs, pains, pleasures, and heartbreaks.”
“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
“A riveting page-turner that explores desire, heartbreak, and infatuation in all its messy, complicated nuance.”
—The Washington Post
“Revealing . . . Taddeo has created a work of nonfiction that unfolds like an intriguing beach read. . . . We’re privy to their deepest insecurities and most vivid sexual encounters.”
—Maris Kreizman, The Wall Street Journal
“Captivating, discomfiting, voyeuristic . . . You’ll want to pass your copy on to a friend as soon as you’ve read it; it’s a book that begs discussion.”
“Rather than dealing in cheap titillation, the author crafts engaging narratives. . . . Three Women captures the pain and powerlessness of desire as well as its heady joys.”
“An extraordinary book . . . In weaving these stories together, Taddeo paints an electrifying picture of female desire, and of the pain men casually inflict in their pursuit of sexual pleasure. She writes in searing prose that seems to capture every nuance. . . . At times there are biblical resonances to the prose. This seems entirely appropriate in work that is intended to capture the primal, scorching, life-changing power of sexual desire amid the banality of our daily lives. It doesn’t just aim. It succeeds. Three Women is an astonishing act of imaginative empathy and a gift to women around the world who feel their desires are ignored and their voices aren’t heard. This is a book that blazes, glitters, and cuts to the heart of who we are. I’m not sure a book can do much more.”
—The Sunday Times (UK)
“If it is not the best book about women and desire that has ever been written, then it is certainly the best book about the subject that I have ever come across. When I picked it up, I felt I’d been waiting half my life to read it; when I put it down, it was as though I had been disemboweled. . . . There isn’t a woman alive who won’t recognize—her stomach lurching, her heart beating wildly—something of what Maggie, Lina, and Sloane go through.”
—Rachel Cooke, The Guardian
“Taddeo has a strong sense of storytelling, setting hooks in each woman’s early chapters before circling back and unfolding their narratives with greater depth. Her short, punchy sentences, eye for telling details, and the wellsprings of conveyed emotion make for a charged, heady read. . . . Taddeo makes palpable the pangs of yearning, and how it can feel to have one’s needs long go unfulfilled and then at last satisfied.”
—Laura Adamczyk, The A.V. Club
“Three Women is an extraordinary piece of nonfiction—a page-rippingly intimate and compelling narration of the desires and sexual proclivities of three real women, how those desires and proclivities were shaped, and the ways in which their communities and society judge them. . . . She does not sensationalize, but nor is she coy; the narrative crackles with visceral details of eroticism: blood, semen, plucking nipple hairs before a date. The result feels like a new genre—as a reader, I frequently forgot that I wasn’t immersed in fiction—and is already one of the most talked-about books of the year.”
—The Times (UK)
“A heartbreaking, gripping, astonishing masterpiece, Three Women is destined to join the canon both of journalistic excellence and feminist literature.”
“Taddeo is stellar at embodying the women, taking on the voice of each in turn. It produces a feeling that the reader is sitting down over coffee to listen to the deeply personal and frequently painful stories of Maggie, Lina, and Sloane. . . . With the disparate threads of these stories, Taddeo weaves complex connections between her subjects' desires.”
—Bryn Greenwood, The Washington Post
“Three Women is a gripping, moving, haunting account of something that is at once fundamental to who we are and often obscured, even from ourselves. The way these three women tease out what they want from what they think they want—the sensations and the emotions, the connections and the atmosphere—transcends sensuality to become something raw, vulnerable, and human. Taddeo’s remarkable way with language cuts to the quick, elevates the quotidian, and makes for a page-turning read.”
—Bridey Heing, Bust
“This is one of the most riveting, assured, and scorchingly original debuts I’ve ever read. Taddeo’s beautifully written and unflinching portraits of desire allow her protagonists to be wholly human and wholly, blessedly complex. I can’t imagine a scenario where this isn’t one of the more important—and breathlessly debated—books of the year.”
—Dave Eggers, author of The Monk of Mokha
“Three Women offers a fascinating excavation of the intricacies of love and desire, where they conspire and where they conflict. Read this book. You will forever rethink the erotics of women.”
—Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity
“I literally could not put it down. An unflinching dissection of female desire so poetically described, I forgot it was nonfiction. Lisa Taddeo makes a gorgeous, unabashed debut. Wow.”
—Gwyneth Paltrow on Instagram
“Taddeo braids together the women’s narratives, which adds both suspense and heft as their desire-biographies echo and diverge. Her distinct proximity to her subjects shows in the intimate fantasies, scorching encounters, and profound pains they relate through her, but, the power resting fully with them, this never becomes voyeuristic. Instead, she allows them to be defined not by their jobs, kids, or, significantly, the men in their lives, but by a deep and essential part of themselves. Readers will almost certainly fly through this, and want to talk about it.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“This is an unusual, startling, and gripping debut. It feels to me like the kind of bold, timely, once-in-a-generation book that every house should have a copy of, and probably will before too long.”
—Megan Nolan, The New Statesman
“Three Women is the new required reading for women and any person who wants to know them. Taddeo has given these women’s testimonies of desire, love, and trauma a brilliance and dignity that is nothing short of revolutionary.”
—Stephanie Danler, author of Sweetbitter
“A master class in empathy, Lisa Taddeo’s revelatory work of narrative nonfiction is already shaping up to be a feminist touchstone for years to come. . . . At once epic and intimate, Three Women is an essential exploration of female desire and its consequences in a patriarchal society.”
“Taddeo spent eight years studying the emotional landscape of three women as it related to their love and sex lives. What results is a book more engrossing than any soap—a book that pays deep and solemn attention to the link between a woman’s body and heart, and her sense of self.”
“This book—challenging and heartbreaking—will stay with me. An extraordinary, documentary deep dive into the psychology of women and sex and the stories we tell ourselves. Three Women is as unputdownable as the most page-turning fiction.”
—Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You
“Three Women is the honest portrayal of female desire that 2019 demands.”
“Three Women is my favorite kind of non-fiction: absorbing, narratively compelling, and replete with portrayals of complete humans. Lisa Taddeo spent eight years with the three women whose stories she tells here, and the resulting portrait of their sex lives is completely riveting.”
—Jessie Gaynor, Lit Hub
“It’s been years since I’ve read a book as propulsive, engrossing, mind-bending, and required as Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women. On the surface, it’s an account of how desire organizes, disrupts, and sometimes threatens to destroy the lives of its three heroines—and that, it seems, is the only way they’d have it. In this age of social media, when the most superficial forms of connection and engagement are touted as their opposites, Three Women reads like an antidote for our technologically-driven isolation and loneliness. It is the deepest dive into our neighbors’ consciousnesses that I’ve ever read, so immersive it approaches the Tolstoyan, and its narcotic pleasures mainline the only thing that can truly save us: empathy.”
—Adam Ross, author of Mr. Peanut
“Three Women is painstaking, painful, unblinking, unsentimental, and utterly unapologetic. Lisa Taddeo comes scarily close to proving the truth of a line uttered by a character in an Antonya Nelson story: ‘Love is sadness.’ ”
—David Shields, author of The Trouble With Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn, and Power
“If you guzzled all of Esther Perel’s couples counselling podcast or wonder whether those [New York magazine] sex diaries can possibly be real, here’s your summer read. Lisa Taddeo draws on eight years of research to render three portraits of real women and their experiences of desire, coupling, and relationships.”
—Elle, “The 30 Best Books to Read This Summer”
“Taddeo takes readers inside the lives of three women whose lives were profoundly influenced by choices they made regarding sexuality. Written in beautiful prose, Taddeo’s take makes the nonfiction stories come alive in a collection you won’t be able to put down.”
“Dexterous and suspenseful . . . The stories of Maggie, Lina, and Sloane are offered here without judgment, which allows readers to objectively view their multivalent experiences. With Three Women, a heavyweight and a knockout both, Taddeo makes it possible for each woman to be the agent of her own storytelling.”
“Dramatic, immersive . . . Based on eight years of reporting and thousands of hours of interaction, a journalist chronicles the inner worlds of three women’s erotic desires. . . . Instead of sensationalizing, the author illuminates Maggie’s, Lina’s, and Sloane’s erotic experiences in the context of their human complexities and personal histories, revealing deeper wounds and emotional yearnings.”
About the Author
- Publisher : Avid Reader Press (July 7, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 145164230X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1451642308
- Item Weight : 11.2 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.38 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #13,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on August 29, 2019
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Top reviews from the United States
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First of all I found it hard to understand why this book became a runaway best seller. It seems to me the stories of these women are replicated all around us, in the sexual desperation and need of men too, so as to be quite ordinary. Here is simply the action of desire from its most bleak to its most exalted.
Yet there are elements which do help understand the book's appeal: the element of identification which is very powerful (I myself strongly identified with Lina); the voyeuristic even prurient element, while I understand and accept the writer wanted the sex to be real; and finally the inscribing of the stories into the now iconic #MeToo narrative.
It is the latter I have a problem with. While I accept that men can be horrible sexual predators or vampires, and far too often, I believe (maybe foolishly) most women enjoy positive healthy affirming sexual interactions with men and with men in general. All of the women here are presented as being cruelly shaped and abused by the men in their lives... Even Sloane by the end has started to look at her father and brother as well as her husband to explain how their lack of love for her, to say the least, has made her the way she is...
We are all shaped by the people in our lives so there will always be weak or strong elements of this "shaping" in all our lives... But I believe it is problematical if young women especially draw on this now iconic narrative too readily to explain themselves.
Of the thousands of interviews the writer did I am sure she encountered many many women with tales of outright sexual liberty and autonomy which might have been told (Karin for example the waitress in Sloane's restaurant). But these stories would not fit the current Zeitgeist... and (I am not being cynical) not sell so readily.
There is also the problematical inevitable representation of men within this narrative. The main male figures are all cold detached sexually-exploiting in one way or another, except perhaps Maggie's Dad who has the good grace to exit the story in the worst possible manner.
Yet all this experience of sexual want need vulnerability inadequacy is felt by men too. I was recently in an relationship where I was wanted desired and I had it abruptly taken away. I clung to the woman for any crumb of comfort... word... glance... acknowledgement... I craved her and still do with my mind my heart and the entirety of my sexual being... and I suffer because she no longer wants me... I accept. It hurts but I accept. This is why Lina's story involved and moved me so much... I want to feel that alive.
And there are men who wither and die daily inside because they feel unnoticible unwanted undesired unseen sexually or perhaps in any way by women... Suffering and desperate. Their whole lives have been that.
Who wants to hear any of their story... What is their iconic narrative?? Get a grip... shrug your shoulders ... too bad... move on... And it would never be a bestseller.
I want to stress however a commonality of human experience, female and male, of sexual need, desire, love... But I would like to see it freed as much as possible from the current dominant narratives of predatory abuse (while abuse must be acknowledged and combatted) that are shaping an entire perception of how men and women are together.
I did find these stories and these three women interesting involving moving. I wish them all peace happiness fulfillment love in their lives.
As a portrait of female desire today within the most normal confines in which we move the book is insightful and enriching and thought-provoking.
As a portrait of how desire works it is also valuable rich and provoking. I do not all regret reading it.
All three stories are tragedies in their own ways—one woman, who as a teenager was allegedly seduced and assaulted by her high school teacher; one in a loveless marriage who has an affair and imprints unrealistic fantasies upon her emotionally distant lover; and the third, a privileged and independent young woman who succumbs to her husband's predilection for threesomes.
Many people have labeled this story as a book of women's desire, but in all three cases, the women become victimized by that desire by their male lovers. Was this Taddeo's intent, to cast a harsh light upon the many ways women lose their autonomy in the bedroom? On the predatory nature of men? Taddeo interviewed many women over years looking for her protagonists. What is the message when Taddeo's committed effort to find three women from very different backgrounds results in three portraits of victimization?
If you're hoping for a fairy tale ending to any of these three portraits, you'll instead be left wondering, as I was, whether there's anything to be gained from realizing that the power dynamic in the bedroom ends with the man on top.
It is decidedly about female sexual desire and I don't want to take that away from it. But it's also about female desire in general--a desire for happiness and met dreams and goals. A desire that keeps us all going each morning when we wake up and things aren't already exactly as we wish them to be.
Taddeo writes, "It felt as though, with desire, nobody wanted anyone else, particularly a woman, to feel it." These are three women, like many of us, who have been given many opportunities to hate ourselves, give up, or be what life tells us to be even if that's not what we want. And in many ways these women have shirked those expectations. And at times these women have settled and let themselves be lost, like many of us.
Sloane feels seen by her husband in a way she was never seen by her family or many of her friends or social-climbing circle. She is desired by him and she wholly desires him and to fulfill his desire for her completely, whatever that entails. Sometimes that lifestyle means she feels farther away from her true identity, and sometimes it feels as much a part of her as it is a part of her husband. She is burnt-out from trying to be perfect for herself and others and yet feels pride in her personality, figure, and accomplishments.
Maggie is a child when she has her first relationship with an adult male and she is still a child when she has her second, with her teacher. A man who knows the intimacies of her secrets so well by the time he preys on her that he crafts himself to be her perfect fantasy and uses that power to continually string her up and cut her down. Then as a young woman she finds the strength to stand up for not only herself, but for any future girl who may be at risk from her former teacher. Even without winning her court case, even without justice being served to her personally, she put this man, her abuser, in such a spotlight that he is unlikely to have the opportunity to get that close to another child.
Lina is told repeatedly by herself, her peers, and her husband that she is not worthy. Her husband was a safe choice to marry, but even after years of companionship he can't stomach the thought of kissing her, let alone more. She embarks on an affair with a former lover who she knows doesn't treat her right, but at least fulfills the desire she's always had in her. The real strength is in her power to advocate for what she wants. To divorce her husband. To know she is worthy of sex and desire. This woman leaves us confident her story is not over and she'll keep trying to find true fulfillment.
The story is not inspiring because the women are perfect, it's inspiring because they're trying to leave their lives in a better place than when they entered them. A must-read that I will recommend to anyone.
Top reviews from other countries
I urge everyone to read this book for its forensic yet empathetic examination of the complexity of female sexual desire and agency. I think it is likely the most impactful and important book written on this subject for a long time, if not ever.