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Three Women
by Lisa Taddeo

Published: 2019-07-09
Hardcover : 320 pages
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“Extraordinary…A nonfiction literary masterpiece…I can’t remember the last time a book affected me as profoundly as Three Women.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

“Taddeo spent eight years reporting this groundbreaking book....Breathtaking....Staggeringly ...
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“Extraordinary…A nonfiction literary masterpiece…I can’t remember the last time a book affected me as profoundly as Three Women.” —Elizabeth Gilbert

“Taddeo spent eight years reporting this groundbreaking book....Breathtaking....Staggeringly intimate.” Entertainment Weekly

“The most in-depth look at the female sex drive that’s been published in decades.” —New York

“A dazzling achievement...Three Women burns a flare-bright path through the dark woods of women’s sexuality.” Los Angeles Times

Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.

It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts, destroys our lives, and it’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. 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. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written and one of the most anticipated books of the year.

We begin in suburban Indiana with Lina, a homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. She passes her days cooking and cleaning for a man who refuses to kiss her on the mouth, protesting that “the sensation offends” him. To Lina’s horror, even her marriage counselor says her husband’s position is valid. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks. When she reconnects with an old flame through social media, she embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming.

In North Dakota we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who finds a confidant in her handsome, married English teacher. By Maggie’s account, supportive nightly texts and phone calls evolve into a clandestine physical relationship, with plans to skip school on her eighteenth birthday and make love all day; instead, he breaks up with her on the morning he turns thirty. A few years later, Maggie has no degree, no career, and no dreams to live for. When she learns that this man has been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, she steps forward with her story—and is met with disbelief by former schoolmates and the jury that hears her case. The trial will turn their quiet community upside down.

Finally, in an exclusive enclave of the Northeast, we meet Sloane—a gorgeous, successful, and refined restaurant owner—who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. He picks out partners for her alone or for a threesome, and she ensures that everyone’s needs are satisfied. For years, Sloane has been asking herself where her husband’s desire ends and hers begins. One day, they invite a new man into their bed—but he brings a secret with him that will finally force Sloane to confront the uneven power dynamics that fuel their lifestyle.

Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of July 2019: This will likely be one of the most talked about books of the year. Author Lisa Taddeo has spent eight years covering the lives of three women. There is Maggie, who met her lover when she was a seventeen-year-old high school student and he was a married schoolteacher. There is Lina, a mother of two who leaves her marriage and rekindles a flame with her high school sweetheart. And there is Sloane, gorgeous and happily married, whose husband likes to pick out her extramarital sexual partners. Taddeo is a talented journalist who thoroughly documents her subjects’ lives; but the language she employs is reaching higher than simple journalism. Likewise, with the subject matter: at first blush, this may seem like a book about sex. But really it is more about desire—and really it is about more than that. This book can be a profound read, but it is also just a good read. There will be moments when the words and the images make you forget that you even are reading; other times you will feel like you want to turn off the light and never speak to another human being again. But that would mean you wouldn’t get to talk about this book.--Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review


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Discussion Questions

1. In the author’s note, Taddeo explains the mechanics of her reporting and writing process for Three Women. How did knowing this information affect the way you read the book? Did it help to know how the book was researched before you started reading?

2. Why do you think we have such a difficult—or uncomfortable—time talking about women’s desire and women’s bodies, even in today’s otherwise open cultural discussions?

3. In the prologue, the author writes, “One inheritance of living under the male gaze for centuries is that heterosexual women often look at other women the way a man would” (page 2). Discuss this statement. In your experience, have you found this to be true or false? Assuming you believe this statement to be true or at least partially true, how does the notion of the inherited male gaze affect Lina, Sloane, and Maggie’s desire and the actions they take to seize their desire?

4. The author spent a considerable amount of time speaking with men about desire before becoming so intrigued by the “complexity and beauty and violence” of female desire that she turned her focus exclusively to women. How would the book be different if men’s voices were included? Did you find yourself wondering what Lina or Sloane’s husbands were thinking, or what Maggie’s teacher taught? Discuss with your group whether men and women will read and respond to Three Women differently and, if so, how?

5. After years of research, interviews, and embedding, the author made the decision to narrate much of Three Women in the third person and uses only the first person in the prologue and epilogue. At times during Maggie’s sections, she even switches to the second person (“you”), directly addressing the readers as if they are involved. How did the author’s decisions about point of view enhance or alter your understanding of these women and their stories? How would the book have been different if the author had chosen to insert herself into the women’s stories?

6. One thing that Lina, Sloane, and Maggie have in common is the way they modify their behavior to fit the needs and desires of the partners they desire. How did it make you feel that these women had to change parts of themselves to try to gain love and acceptance from the ones they are with or the ones they desire? What does this say about power in relationships and the dynamics between men and women that we inherit and invent for ourselves? Have you ever experienced this in a relationship?

7. While Lina and Sloane are adults when they realize and act on their desires, Maggie is a high school student involved in an alleged relationship with a married teacher. Did you view Maggie’s story differently from those of her counterparts? What struck you most about her experience?

8. Maggie’s experiences not only upend her own life but also that of her entire community. Were you surprised by the outcome of the trial and the varying ways in which Maggie and her teacher each have to deal with the fallout from it? How did you feel about how strongly the community supported Maggie’s teacher?

9. At one point in her narrative, Lina explains that she fears being alone more than she fears death, which seems to inform a lot of her decisions. Do you agree with her? Why do you think that loneliness and not experiencing love frighten us so much?

10. Something that seems to follow Sloane are the expectations that others put upon her when it comes to her job, life partner, appearance, status, and so on, which create a line she has to straddle. How does accommodating other people interfere with Sloane’s own needs and desires? Is there an overlap between her accommodation and her desires?

11. To some extent, the author’s goal in Three Women is to restore agency and power to women as they tell their stories. Do you think she succeeds? Why is it important that women feel empowered to tell their truths?

12. In your opinion, what shapes our views of sex and relationships most? Is it environment, past experience, the media, our families, our friends, or something else? How does each of the three women’s lives influence her mind-set? How have experiences from your past informed your adult life?

13. In the beginning and at the end of the book, the author recounts a story about her Italian mother and the man who used to follow her inappropriately. How does that anecdote set the tone for the book and carry throughout? What is the legacy of mothers and daughters when it comes to relationships, sex, and desire, both in this book and in your own experiences?

14. In the prologue of Three Women, the author explains, “It’s relatability that moves us to empathize” (page 7). After reading the book, do you agree? How did you relate, or not, to Lina, Sloane, and Maggie’s stories? Discuss as a group whether you empathize more or less with people you can relate to. Was your reading of the book affected by an ability to connect with Lina, Sloane, or Maggie?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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