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Book Review: 'Three Women'

For eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo traveled the country and embedded herself with ordinary women in an attempt to explore a topic few people talk about – female desire.

The result is one of this summer’s most anticipated and talked-about debuts, “Three Women,” a nonfiction work that reads like a novel, following the sex lives of three American women: Maggie, a young woman from North Dakoka, says she was a teenager when she engaged in a secret relationship with her high school English teacher. Lina, an Indiana housewife, escapes her passionless marriage by starting up an affair with a former boyfriend. And Sloane owns a Rhode Island restaurant with her chef husband, who encourages her to sleep with other people.

Through immersive reporting and dramatic storytelling, Taddeo illuminates the women’s personal histories, emotional yearnings and sexual experiences, exploring the nuances of that intersection. Each story is told with astonishing frankness and depth, as the women describe desires that most keep hidden away.

Sloane, the restauranteur, relates the heartbreak of witnessing her husband with another woman, even during what is supposed to be a consensual affair. “Something inside Sloane stopped,” Taddeo writes. “Not her heart, but something that kept her body running all the same. She could feel it, her actual soul melt out and skitter from the room.”

In “Three Women,” Taddeo describes how each of her subjects is affected by an intimate relationship for which she eventually is criticized and guilt-ridden. Maggie decides to go to authorities a few years after the tryst with her teacher, so Taddeo’s account includes the subsequent trial against her alleged abuser and the community’s response. Lina’s storyline tackles the frustration of her marriage and her obsessive longing for more.

“Three Women” is real and raw, and it’s intended for mature audiences. But its subject matter and timing make it a groundbreaking work, one that begs to be read and discussed by both men and women.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.