Q&A With Lisa Taddeo
Lisa Taddeo, journalist and fiction writer, has written an explosive expose on the lives of three women and their erotic desires and sex lives. She’s been a contributor to, among others, Elle, New York Magazine, and Glamour, and her short stories have won two Pushcart Prizes. Over the course of almost a decade, Taddeo intensively researched and interviewed women all over the country about their sexual desire, and ultimately embedded herself with three women of different backgrounds, to produce Three Women, which Esquire calls a “heartbreaking, gripping, astonishing masterpiece,” and Harper’s Bazaar says is “a master class in empathy.”
These portraits of Lina, a stay at home mom stuck in a sexless marriage, who leaves her husband for a married ex-boyfriend with whom she has explosive sex, but who is emotionally and intellectually barren; Maggie, a college drop out, scarred from her alcoholic parents and an exhilarating but inappropriate relationship with her high school English teacher that stops dramatically and leaves her unmoored and unable to move past it; and Sloane, a beautiful, sexy, successful restauranteur who has sex with other men at her husband’s behest, are brutal in their honest portrayal of how ferociously women want and need sex, and how they are punished for their desires while the men in their orbits emerge uninjured and intact.
Lisa, this was a monumental project, in scope, in time spent, and in emotional currency. How did you come up with this idea and what made you decide to take it on?
It was kind of organic. I wanted to write about desire. I drove across the country six times looking for subjects and moved several times to be near the ones I found the most trenchant. I didn’t know the form it was going to take. I only knew I wanted to explore the intersection of keeping one’s innermost thoughts close to the chest, and satisfying or emoting those feelings. I wanted to explore the nuance of that intersection.
Only one of the three women had a relationship that I would describe as remotely stable (Sloane) and hers was complicated by her husband’s desire to have her sleep with other men, primarily men he chose. Their lives all felt bleak despite their powerful sexual desire. Were you surprised by this? Is it possible, in your view, to have lust and great sex and a healthy relationship?
I think Sloane’s marriage is an exceedingly happy one, and that hers interpolated great sex and lust with a truly healthy relationship. Of course there are hiccups, as in any good marriage, but the reason I found hers dynamic was because of how much it deviated from the “normal” and “accepted” variety. And how that deviation might cause some confusion. Further, how that deviation might cause others to judge (which it did). I was as much interested in Sloane’s story as I was in the reaction to her story.
I actually don’t think the women’s lives were bleak. I think that they were either the heroes or the victims of their own stories on a day to day basis. That sometimes they “died” for their hearts. Their individual passions were always very clear-eyed to me. And I think passion and pain are inexorably intertwined. To that end, there was sadness, but there was also high joy. Women finding themselves at their zeniths and their nadirs.
You embedded yourself in these women’s lives. Did you ever meet the men featured in the book? (If so, were they what you expected?) (If not, why not?)
I met some of the men in the book, but really I wanted to tell the stories from these women’s perspectives. They are their stories, and no one else’s.
Do you keep in touch with the three women? Do you know how they are now? Does Sloan’s marriage survive? Does Lina ever get what she wants from Aidan? Does Maggie move on from her high school trauma? Does it matter?
Yes, I talk to each of them between once a month to twice a week. Maggie is a social worker and helping young people like the one she was, without any support system. It’s still hard for her, but she is moving past it, and hopes the book will convince people of her truth, and give her closure. Sloane’s marriage is doing wonderfully. Lina does NOT get what she wants from Aidan.
Overall, what does Three Women say about the state of women’s sexual power now? Does it strengthen or diminish us?
I think sexual desire doesn’t change over time all that much. What changes is how and whether we discuss it. We have a lot of power right now; we get to say what we DON’T want and people are listening. But, from what I’ve observed, after talking to hundreds of women is that we still don’t get to say what we DO want. I hope that women telling stories like the ones in this book will help others free themselves, too. Even if just in their brains.
What are you reading now and what is sitting on your nightstand waiting to be read?
Do you know what your next project is? Can you tell us a little about it?
My novel will be out next year. The name is Animal. It’s a dark story about a female narrator driving across the country to find another woman who holds the secret to the narrator’s violent past.
How did writing this book change you?
I learned that women are so complex and powerful, more powerful than I had ever imagined. I learned about rage, my own included. My own memories of past abuses and passions rose to the surface whilst talking to all these people across the country. I also became a wife and a mother during the course of the research and the writing. So I changed within the book and without.