15th October 2020

Review: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Ruby Opalka reflects on Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and discusses sexuality, feminism and desire.
Review: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
Lisa Taddeo’s best-selling debut novel titled Three Women

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is a meticulous study of the vast gulf between sexual fantasy and reality. The work of creative non-fiction has rightfully obtained bestseller status, which accounts for the thousands of hours Taddeo spent absorbing the intricacies of the real-life Maggie, Sloane and Lina. The book offers, in a time of global social distance, bleakly truthful moments of human connection. 

In the author’s note, Taddeo shares that she hoped to “convey vital truths about women and desire”. Three Women is a chilling reminder of the vulnerability of women in [heterosexual] relationships. Taddeo’s eight year project flew off the shelves at a speed that rendered it both The New York Times and the Sunday Times No.1 Bestseller.

Three Women has ignited important discussions about how female sexuality is represented in society. The book contains honest and gut-wrenching accounts of sex and desire. Taddeo’s refreshing frankness and stark relatability orders us to rethink our judgements about female eroticism.  

Taddeo’s Three Women

Taddeo describes Maggie, a twenty-three year old from North Dakota, as she waits to testify at the trial of her abusive high school teacher. Maggie has shielded herself with “war-paint,” but underneath she is “scarred and scared and horny and tired and love[s] [him].

Sloane, a refined Newport restaurant-owner with a “face like a sorority girl’s”, fucks other people at her husband’s request. When the couple bring another woman into the bedroom, Sloane is “beyond sexually excited.” She feels moments of “tenderness” and “love.” For this, she assumes there must be an “anomaly” within her. 

Lina, a housewife from Indiana, is bruised by lust. She craves, urgently, to be “French-kissed”, but neither her apathetic husband or messy high-school ex can fulfil her bleeding desires. Lina experiences a “tangle of need and anxiety.” 

Taddeo’s three women ache to be desired, cherished and understood, yet feel dirty, desperate and immoral. Three Women is beautifully written and painstakingly researched. Taddeo has created a haunting account that allows – finally – an insight into the ‘dark secrets’ of women’s erotic experience.

Three Women has been heralded as evoking universal truths about women across the globe. However, it is certainly worth noting that each central character is a cisgender, white American and in a heterosexual relationship. 

Some readers may, as a result, want to read something that depicts the countless other ways that the complexity of desire manifests. Of similar magnitude and beauty as Three Women, but which spans intersections of queerness, blackness and womxness is Bernadine Evaristo’s vital masterpiece Girl, Woman, Other. 

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