... an engrossing, voyeuristically vivid account of [Taddeo's] subjects’ longings—not only their sexual desires but also the feelings informing their relationships with their families and communities, with men and with other women ... Taddeo gives us pornographically detailed scenes of Lina and her lover, and relays pages’ worth of sexy text messages. I felt Lina’s joy with the same captivated intensity that I felt Maggie’s pain and betrayal ... Reading Three Women is a deeply immersive experience. Taddeo rarely interjects to give her two cents on any particular scene; her prologue and epilogue are brief, too, allowing the three stories to stand alone as dispatches from the world of female longing and loss. She does not offer solutions to these women’s problems or hope for their outcomes. Her choice of details—what she holds up as worthy of our consideration—is her way of curating what she thinks is essential about their narratives ... Taddeo has, indeed, afforded her subjects the intimate complexity and lyrical treatment of characters in novels. I pictured them vividly. Though each individual’s story line suffers a bit from being just one-third of the whole—and Maggie’s feels like the centerpiece, with Lina’s and Sloane’s narrative arcs less fully realized—their portraits together are smartly told and deeply moving.
...a vexed, nearly decade-long investigation into the sex lives and desires of three American women ... an immersive look at a particular story of female sexuality, albeit refracted three ways. It’s florid and sometimes inexcusably clumsy but also bracing, bleak and full of nagging questions about why it remains so difficult for some women to access their secret lives, to name—let alone pursue—their desires ... [Taddeo's] intentions partly feel wobbly because the language of the book is so inconsistent, full of odd homilies—an assembly line of truly terrible metaphors. I was awe-struck by their number, dottiness, incomprehensibility ... These are not merely cosmetic flaws, or matters of taste. To see language treated so shabbily shakes the reader’s confidence; if a writer can’t work her way around a sentence or land a metaphor, what assurance have we that she can parse her subjects’ traumas, their complex, sometimes inchoate yearnings?The faux-literary language seems larded on to distract from the book’s essential pessimism about power and conflict between men and women. That harshness, however, is a great strength of the book. The boldness in Three Women—and its missteps—are both born of the risks Taddeo takes[.]
Its characters aren’t representative, but that goal, while admirable, is a casualty of the approach Taddeo took, which is a deep, deep dive into the sexual psyches of her three characters: two Midwestern women and a sleek East Coast restaurateur ... 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 ... None of the narratives in Three Women are inspirational or empowering, but they are what the best long-form journalism should be, which is truthful ... Some of Taddeo’s best writing (presumably facilitated by Maggie herself) comes in the description of how this rejection devastates a girl who first couldn’t believe her brilliant teacher really loved her and then couldn’t believe that the orchestrator of such a courtship really didn’t love her ... magnificently depicted.
Taddeo’s intent—and her publisher’s hope—is to reveal what 'female desire' looks like today ... The result of Taddeo’s investigation, however, is not a book about the vast terra infirma of female desire, but, rather, an excruciating exposé of the ongoing epidemic of female fragility and neediness in the romantic arena—a product of our insecurity, ignorance and zero self-regard. Taddeo’s sad, searing, sometimes unbearably painful tales of bad decisions, agonies and humiliations at the shrine of 'love' show us that, in spite of 10 to 15 minutes here and there of truly hot sex, a woman 'in love' is frequently a basket case ... While the complex feelings of the women conveyed may well be true, the voice is categorically Taddeo’s, not theirs. Nevertheless, the result is effective and affecting.
Taddeo methodically circles back to the ways in which men’s actions fuel, fulfill and warp female desire ... It is far from an exhaustive look at desire, as its focus is distinctly cisgender and heterosexual, firmly invested in the dichotomy of male/female ... The book is narrative in tone, and 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 ... Although this is a book about women’s desire, readers will not find in its pages an answer to the question of 'what women really want.' Rather, it is a heartbreaking litany of the disappointments and betrayals that shape female longing.
Unfortunately, despite the sensitivity Taddeo shows her subjects, this book hits a sour note when it attempts to make meaning from their lives. In her eagerness to remind us that, for all of feminism’s supposed gains, most people still live under a rigid sexual regime, Taddeo seems oddly scornful of the idea that it could be otherwise ... Taddeo is right to dwell on the incredible unfairness of a sexual politics that accords men all the desire and women all the responsibility for shutting down their advances—and then the blame for the sex itself, whether or not they resist ... But confusingly, Taddeo seems at points to agree that it is only women, not men, who are equipped to carry the moral and emotional weight of relationships ... Taddeo’s intentions feel indeterminate. At times, she seems ready to set fire to the idea of desire on which this book is built ... If Three Women had more fully embraced that ambiguity, it might have ended up surer about what it had to say.
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 ... 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 ... 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.
Three Women is a book for people who enjoy embarrassment by proxy, which Taddeo uses to emphasize just how 'relatable' these stories are. In addition to comprehensive sex scenes, Taddeo favors the knowing presentation of details that are meant to resonate with a large number of people ... This is capable, playful portraiture, at ease with the comedy of desire even as its tragic outcome looms. But, elsewhere, Taddeo’s view of women as both impossibly complicated and fundamentally constrained leads her to ascribe nonsense and clichés to them ... Taddeo’s use of the close third person camouflages the source of these infelicities even as she seeks to expose the source of the women’s problems. The result is moral ambiguity at the level of the book’s form rather than its content ... Conventions of reporting do occasionally enter the text, to great effect ... She seems to forget that a book, regardless of its mode, is not the same as a personal story or something shared over a kitchen table...By eliding the difference between the two, Taddeo replicates the conditions she purports to lament: she offers these women up to be judged ... Although she asserts in her epilogue that 'women have agency,' she tends to patronize her subjects, emphasizing the fact that people may not understand their conflicting emotions.
For a young feminist, Three Women is a deeply discouraging book that suggests that much less has changed about men and women’s romantic relationships than we (or at least I) had assumed ... Reading Three Women is at times a slog, like doing homework for a necessary but terrifying exam ... If you really care about women, Taddeo challenges her reader, stay and listen to their stories ... I struggled with feelings of disdain at Lina’s behavior, at Sloane’s egotism. But that says as much about me—about my own experiences, my own relationship to male attention—as it does them ... Taddeo never explains the significance of the data she has so painstakingly collected; she just writes it down. What the reader does with it—what the reader sees in herself—is the reader’s business ... If Three Women is supposed to challenge the reader to respect its subjects’ desires, even when they seem retrograde or degrading, then the reader must acknowledge these three women’s inalienable right to act like tragic heroines ... Three Women doesn’t come down firmly on one side or the other. At its best, the book reflects the reader back to herself, and asks a simple question: Are you just as biased as a garden-variety sexist when women act in ways you disapprove of? ... To receive the lessons of Three Women and accept them, in oneself and in others, provides an opportunity for personal and collective forgiveness.
... a battle cry too, and likewise a lullaby and a lyric deposition on that subject usually hovering right next to sex: desire. Madonna made you want to dance. Taddeo makes you want to feel ... The three women in the book happen to be straight, white and living above the poverty line. Despite this, Taddeo uses their experiences to raise many questions that aren’t, at least in the abstract, confined by sexual identity, ethnicity or socioeconomic status ... 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. The illusion Taddeo creates is that there actually is no journalist at work here–no author, no thesis. She’s an apolitical messenger channeling her subjects’ potentially contentious perspectives. 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.
Though I found it depressing in many ways, its very presence—the fact a book like this could be written and published—is profound and hopeful. It’s a flawed, messy work of art, and of inventive journalism. Its style is conversational and compulsively readable, but occasionally veers into overly florid, distracting language ... Maggie is the only one of the three [women] whose surroundings feel fully realized and whose location is specified. The other two, though just as vivid as people, live in vaguer settings ... It is quietly thrilling to read certain parts about being a girl and woman in love or in lust, things that are so fundamentally familiar to my own experience but which I have never read articulated quite so plainly ... this is a very simple book, as suggested by the title, but its simplicity is what makes it so important. To spend years on these ordinary stories, as Taddeo has done, is an act of generosity and faith. It’s what storytelling is for, why we need it: to lend grace to parts of life that are easily diminished, to grant value to experiences that are shameful and humiliating. 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.
...[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. She doesn’t pull her punches. She calls a spade a spade and sexual intercourse a “f***”. In the context, it doesn’t seem obscene. She is aiming to capture the violence of sexual desire and its power to wreck lives — as well, of course, as create them. But there’s also a singing simplicity to the prose that at times lifts it to something more like poetry. 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 that a book can do much more.
...a minute journalistic account of the defining sexual relationships in three people’s lives. Taddeo chose her subjects for their honesty and openness, and perhaps for what she perceives as their ordinariness ... The most compelling of the narratives is that of Maggie ... She haphazardly switches between tenses – Maggie’s story is told mostly in the present tense; Sloane’s mostly in the past – and the third and second person. There are long lists of evocative details, and full stops where there would traditionally be question marks or commas. In Maggie’s case, at least, the unfairness at the heart of the story is potent despite these attempts at lyricism ... Taddeo spent many hours with her subjects to better recount their family histories, sexual histories, motivations and insecurities. The result is three detailed stories, without a clear sense of why she chose these women, and why right now ... Three Women simply confirms, once again, the hypocrisies of the heterosexual marriage.
That Taddeo is most fascinated by stories of female romantic and sexual abjection squarely in the Victorian mold is one complicating factor in a book framed as an immersive report on the current state of female desire ... Three Women reads like a work of psychological realism, every page showcasing the author’s radical empathy and almost occult communion with her subjects. Taddeo generally uses limited-third-person narration, moving freely between the subjects’ experience and their psyches. There is an unnerving charge ... If her approach is often distracting—rarely is such an effaced narrator this overbearing—Taddeo, who also writes ﬁction, is a master of character ... My own self-consciousness tended to rise in proportion to Taddeo’s success: The frothier the melodrama and purer the voyeuristic frisson, the stronger the impulse to watch myself as a reader, to clock and wonder at my own responses ... Taddeo is a savage observer of interpersonal economies of power, the market values of age, ﬂesh, gender, social status, class ... Are there women, really? Are there at least three of them? Read as an answer to that question, Three Women is an ambivalent document: involving, granular, and brilliantly observed as drama, but too scattered to mobilize concepts as vast and abstruse as gender and desire. Read untroubled by questions of gender essentialism, the book is a triumph, afﬁrming as worthy of considered, compassionate study the intimate lives of everyday women.
The most perplexing thing about Three Women, Lisa Taddeo’s buzzy new book — ostensibly about female desire — is that it’s not really about that at all. Read it with any expectation that it will live up to the marketing and you will wonder why, exactly, each of the principal women in it loses all sense of herself if she’s not the focus of a particular man’s gaze ... a messy book that seems, along the edges, to want to ask profound questions about women’s agency and big-picture desires, like how they want to shape their lives, and how to prioritize their own wants. Certainly, sexual shaming interests Taddeo. Each of her subjects, at some point, has been branded a loose woman who asked for it, even when violence was being perpetrated against her ... Taddeo has some curious ideas, though ... the book would have had to go wider and deeper, beyond the tedious tawdriness that makes it read at times like soft-core porn, with all the literary ickiness that implies: excruciating sex scenes between thinly drawn characters we’re given little reason to care about ... Everyone in these braided tales seems very white, and very familiar ... Post-#MeToo, our culture is only just beginning to correct its reflexive dismissal of girls and women who cry sexual assault. A book about that is not what Taddeo set out to write. But it’s hard not to wish that she had dug further into Maggie’s story and jettisoned the others. That could have made an insightful read, timed perfectly for right now.
Three Women does supply a frank exuberance in unpacking lust ... Taddeo brings a well-written poignancy in the telling of the sexual adventures, misadventures and travesties of her protagonists ... Taddeo is unwavering in her molecular attention to her protagonist’s viewpoint ... Three Women raises the complex question of how representative Taddeo’s subjects are. None completed college. All experienced teenage traumas ... Taddeo writes wistfully of subjects who dropped out. But one might ask if the damaged women she did corral were the ones best positioned to give consent ... Three Women offers some beautiful sentences, some insights and some sordidness. But nobody hoping for context will find footnotes at the end of this book.
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. But such depth perhaps prohibits a greater breadth of stories told. The three central women are white, mostly heterosexual...and younger than 40 when Taddeo meets them, a view that appears especially limited when one considers the wide net the author cast in looking for her subjects ... Three Women is therefore best when taken as a very close study of a few particular individuals, as opposed to a broader treatise on female desire and sexuality. Today, women talking about sex is less transgressive than the marketing and press surrounding the book might suggest, and treating it as such gives more power to an outdated way of thinking—that sexuality, and female sexuality in particular, is rigid and shameful, which Taddeo seems to be trying to refute. These pages don’t reveal new truths so much as reinforce old ones.
Taddeo might have set out in search of ordinary women’s untold tales, but from beginning to end each of these stories seems almost salaciously exceptional ... But if it’s true that Taddeo 'spoke to hundreds of people, 30 or so at length,' Three Women made me very curious to hear what she learned from those dozens of others. Her approach places a hermetic focus upon these three women’s dreams, desires, and fears, yes, and it certainly seems valuable to hear about their inner lives. But it also makes the book seem limited in its scope, disappointingly small, and suspiciously cherry-picked ... what about the stories that don’t burn quite so hot? This book is so intimately focused on its three subjects’ internal lives that the rest of the world seems to fall away in an indeterminate blur, like the view out a fogged-up window ... I enjoyed reading this book, and I gobbled it down in two consecutive sittings, but in the end I’m not sure it taught me anything definitive about 'what longing in America looks like,' save for the specific kinds of stories Taddeo was longing to tell.
Lisa Taddeo’s 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 ... In another medium, these dilemmas could easily come off as a certain kind of erotic cliché, sensational filler for advice columns and daytime talk shows. 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 ... 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.
The reporting is deep — to live near her subjects, Taddeo moved her family across America — and the book is told from their point of view, largely in third person. It is meticulously, deliciously graphic without being titillating. Each story is compelling ... While Taddeo insists that women can be as 'bullish' about the lust and thrust of sex as men, it is the emotional side that compels. The book is most eloquent on the women’s yearnings — the gaps between sex ... The literary quality of the book (the writing can be overblown) elevates the subject matter ... Taddeo reflects that 'it’s the nuances of desire that hold the truth of who we are at our rawest moments. I set out to register the heat and sting of female want so that men and other women might more easily comprehend before they condemn.' That is her greatest achievement.
...Taddeo doesn’t shy away from the unspoken, the uncomfortable and the shadow sides of sexuality. This is by necessity a ruthless book as it explores the half-concealed aspects of not only the female sex life but also the inner and secret lives of women ... Three Women is merciless, impossible to put down and so revealing as to be uncomfortable. As the women share themselves, you find yourself reflected. It’s a multifaceted work that changes as you turn it, casting light in unexpected corners that you never before considered—and had perhaps even been guarding against.
... a strange beast ... Each one of these tales might, individually, have made for a compelling memoir in its own right. By pulling them together in this way, Taddeo invites us to view them collectively, as part of a single, composite entity ... if there is a common theme across the three stories, it is a conspicuous lack of sisterly solidarity ... handles its subject with far more sympathy and insight than we would get in a commercial misery memoir, but it is not entirely free of some of the unattractive traits associated with that genre: the very nature of the book presupposes a degree of prurience and condescension. Alternatively, perhaps fastidiousness itself is the problem. Perhaps the hitherto existing system of rules governing matters of privacy and propriety prevents us from talking about these things in a manner that is both sufficiently incisive to say what needs to be said, and sufficiently generous to meet the standards of good taste and decency. If so, then Three Women’s flaws – its conceptual messiness, its extractive voyeurism, and its very slight whiff of overbearing, wise-after-the-event didacticism – are also its most important features.
...not only exhaustively researched, but also visceral and vivid ... Reading Three Women, you could be forgiven for suspecting that male callousness has a tender female analogue: the women Taddeo follows are desperately in love with their male partners or abusers, and their desire has a quavering quality ... Taddeo’s dramatic revelations shed light on why her subjects might clamber so hopelessly for male approval or acquiesce so readily to their lovers’ demands. But sometimes it seems as though the tragic anecdotes in Three Women serve primarily as signifiers of a legible form of femininity: that is to say, what seems to unify Taddeo’s three women is just that they are wounded in familiar ways ... There are few fresh revelations here ... If we really hope to license women to expand their sexual repertoires, we might do better to depict less familiar kinds of sex, or even less typical forms of victimization. The term 'female desire' is meaningless precisely because there are as many desires as there are women. The relatively homogeneous sample presented in Three Women speaks for only a few.
...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. ... In Taddeo’s world almost anything can be pregnant with desire: a restaurant, a river, a classroom ... Taddeo’s language is at its best — sublime, even — when she describes the pain of desire left unfulfilled ... As the book progresses, the men in these women’s lives appear to be not only deficient but nearly monstrous. At times, Taddeo eviscerates them with what seems like a kind of gender essentialism, as if men are fixed creatures, deploying cutting remarks about how they 'need' instead of 'want' ... If there is anything wrong with this arresting, provocative debut, it is that at times the stories feel too explicit, almost voyeuristic. But can a book about desire ever be too explicit? In fact, the most carnal scenes reveal the most about what these women want and how complicated that want can be. Even if others are determined to keep it from them.
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 ... The balance...throughout Three Women — between what is researched, remembered and dreamed into being by collaboration of author and subject — is a dazzling achievement ... For the duration, the reader becomes these women. Taddeo’s presence as narrator only occupies an author’s note, plus a short prologue and epilogue. Otherwise, she disappears into the characters, describing their experiences in such intimate third-person that her collapsing is our collapsing too. Sometimes the identification that can occur with the story can be almost nauseating ... Desire, because it can be a messy and desperate animal need, can be excruciating to witness ... Taddeo’s poetics of desire are gorgeous, but they occasionally obscure the trail she so brilliantly blazed through the trees.
... a timely book that attempts to respond to the #MeToo movement by bringing women’s bodies, their sexualities, and their experiences to the forefront ... Unfortunately, Taddeo’s style leaves something to be desired in terms of objectivity and authenticity. The author explains that she’s removed herself from all but the prolog and epilog, yet each chapter is filled with interpretations, assumptions, and authorial intervention. Some of her casual phrasing about how someone is not 'the type of woman to take pleasure in' street harassment will rankle readers familiar with feminist theory. Audiences interested in works about women’s sexuality may find the three stories gathered here compelling. Unfortunately, Taddeo’s use of second-person narration in the chapters on these women mixed with more journalistic writing feels more like a tabloid than a true excavation of her subjects’ lives ... Readers of women’s history and of memoir will be better served elsewhere.
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.
In her ambitious, if flawed, debut, journalist Taddeo reports on the risks women take to fulfill their sexual desires ... Unfortunately, all three feel underdeveloped, with no real insight into them or their lives outside of their sexual histories, and with little connective tissue between their stories. Taddeo’s immersive narrative is intense, but more voyeuristic than thoughtful.
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 ... only in the epilogue does Taddeo mention race and its impacts on women's experiences with sex and longing. Such oversight brings a palpable white gaze to the narrative. Compounded by the author’s occasionally lackluster prose, the book’s flaws compete with its meaningful contribution to #MeToo–era reporting.