Lisa Taddeo: Writing the Truth of Women’s Desire

(photo: J. Waite)

Lisa Taddeo has contributed to New York magazine, Esquire, Elle, Glamour and many other publications. Her nonfiction has been included in the anthologies Best American Sports Writing and Best American Political Writing, and her short stories have won two Pushcart Prizes. She lives with her husband and daughter in Connecticut. Three Women, her first book, will be published in July 2019 and is the inaugural title from Simon & Schuster's Avid Reader Press imprint.

Let's get the obvious question out of the way: What was the genesis of Three Women?

The genesis was to take the pulse of sexuality and desire in American today. A sort of updating of Gay Talese's Thy Neighbor’s Wife, but from a female perspective. Desire is at once all we think about and talk about, and at the same time our most slippery secret. I wanted to explore the nuance of that intersection.

I began by talking to both men and women, but the men's stories, though intriguing, began to bleed together. The throttle of their desire often ended once a conquest was achieved, whereas for the women, it was utterly the opposite. Of course, this is not to generalize. But the three individuals who ended up sticking out to me, who were the most willing to tell their stories in ways that revealed their desire, happened to be three women--these specific three women. There were several subjects who dropped out, the most notable one about seven months into my research, when she began to fear her new relationship would suffer if her past were found out.

In your prologue, you say that you drove across the country six times in order to find your subjects. Can you share a bit more about the search?

I used every mode I could think of, from the most analogue to the most modern. I posted on Craigslist. I posted on Facebook. I posted on message boards. I handed out business cards in sleepy surf towns, taped messages on Starbucks bulletin boards, university bulletin boards, gas station windows, at churches and temples and grocery stores. I chased down newspaper stories of jilted lovers carrying guns.

I read about Maggie in a newspaper story. I was in Medora, North Dakota, when I read about the trial. I called her mother's house and introduced myself, and the next day I was driving to Fargo. I found Lina after moving to the Midwest, where I started a women's discussion group. Right away Lina's story spoke to me. The third woman, Sloane, I learned about through a mutual acquaintance. With each of them I'd like to think it was as much forging a friendship as it was finding a subject. In two of the cases, I moved to be near them, for a little over a year in each instance. It was in this way that I was able to most acutely experience their stories. We worked out together, had coffee, had drinks, had dinner, had lunch, went shopping, went to meet the people they were seeing. Sometimes I waited in the car nearby or followed on my own behind them.

You must have had to embellish at least some of the sex scenes in the book. What was your approach to writing the sex scenes, and was writing them more or less difficult (or fun) than writing other passages?

The sex scenes are not embellished. Lina's, for example, are nearly verbatim from her memory. She would text or call me or send me a message on Facebook on the way home from an interlude with Aidan. What I found so alluring and gorgeous about Lina was her honesty about sex. About all parts of it. She was so enthralled with that man when I was profiling her that she wanted to get everything down so she herself could remember it forever.

With the other two women, it was not as easy. Maggie for obvious reasons--it was difficult for her to speak about something nobody had believed her about, and something about which she later felt shame. And with Sloane, I made a conscious choice to depict her scenes in a less sexually explicit manner, because for Sloane the sex was sort of an obvious thing. She is a sexual person, but her instances of sexuality speak less of her than the other parts about her. Also, because Sloane's story from the outset sounds as though it will be the most lurid, I wanted the other parts of her to speak more loudly.

Regarding fun--no, not at all. I think writing about sex is hard. You don't want to be clinical and you don't want to be pornographic and you don't want to be puritanical, so finding an in-between is difficult. I wanted the sex scenes to be as real as though they were being viewed by the reader, but not gratuitously so. Not to be titillated. But rather, to be empathically understood.

You write in your prologue, "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." It's a worthy undertaking, but (I'm devil's advocating here) do you think some readers will fixate on the fact that these women's sexual desires brought them varying degrees of headache and heartache?

Of course, and yet I firmly believe that's the whole point. That comprehending someone's heartache is, unfortunately, very often the only way to stop condemning them. Maggie, Sloane and Lina want to be loved, and they want to love, and they do and they have had moments of exhilaration and have given up a lot for those moments. They want to live life, even when it goes against their religion, their families, their societies. I very much admire people who forgo blazing experiences in favor of "the right path," but I also admire the polar opposite. And these women lived between both poles, as I think we all do at varying points in our lives. --Nell Beram

Powered by: Xtenit