Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. We begin in suburban Indiana with Lina, a homemaker and mother whose marriage has lost its passion. In North Dakota we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who finds a confidant in her married teacher. Finally, in the Northeast, we meet Sloane, who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. Three Women is a portrait of erotic longing in America.
... 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.