Three Women is a book that I waited for nine months on the library wait list. No kidding, I requested it back in May (when I was still hopeful that by the time my name was up the pandemic would be distant memory.) But here we are.
This is a journalistic tour de force – because that’s right – it’s the real, raw, messy relationships of three real women laid bare by Lisa Taddeo. She spent years immersed in the lives of these three subjects (and others who ended up ultimately withdrawing from the project).
Taddeo’s women are drawn with finesse and insight and empathy. There’s Maggie, groomed by her teacher in what she sees as a real love affair. Lina, trapped in a loveless marriage who reconnects with her high school sweetheart. And Sloane, beautiful and successful, whose husband likes to watch her have sex with other men in front of him.
All of the stories are compelling, though Maggie’s hit me the hardest. For those who’ve read My Dark Vanessa, it’s not hard to draw parallels – a young girl lured in by an older, trustworthy male figure – only to have their whole world collapse when they’re no longer the subject of desire. ‘Maggie feels she has done something wrong,’ Taddeo tells us, ‘His superpower is that he can make her feel stupid very fast. It’s not just that he’s older, and her teacher. It’s something else, but it’s also those things.’ For Maggie, a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, the ramifications of this gross abuse of power reverberate into her future in a devastating way.
‘There’s a train that chugs in the distance. Maggie is animated, thinking of future train rides, one-way tickets out of Fargo, into careers and sleek apartments in glassy cities. Her whole life stretches out before her, a path of imprecise but multiple directions. She could be an astronaut, a rap star, an accountant. She could be happy.’
It’s voyeuristic, of course – and it does leave you wondering how much is embellished for the sake of the story – but it’s refreshing to hear these frank deep-dives into the romantic lives of other women, an unapologetic voice given to female desire. There’s a sadness tinged throughout – but Taddeo passes no judgement on these experiences, steadfast in the role of a faithful narrator who will resist a defined beginning, middle, and satisfying denoument.
‘Lina knows the literal translation of I don’t want to hurt you is I want to have sex with you but I don’t love you.’
It isn’t a sweeping treatise on what it means to be a woman – this is a minuscule subsection of white America – but the feelings that Taddeo memorializes within these stories – of longing or self-loathing or restlessness or the desire for control – are universal. Taddeo gives weight to these three stories, in all their intimate, multi-faceted and complex realness. Worth the wait? I think so.