Lisa Taddeo on Her New Book, “Three Women”

My friend Lisa Taddeo’s debut book, “Three Women,”  is an extraordinarily candid and nuanced look at desire from the female perspective, and it’s out today! Lisa spent eight years driving cross-country (sometimes in an RV!) and interviewed hundreds of people to find the book’s three subjects – Lina, Maggie, and Sloane- all of whom opened up to her about the most intimate parts of their lives. It’s getting tremendous reviews, and Time Magazine says: “For anyone who thinks they know what women want, this book is an alarm, and its volume is turned all the way up.” Read our conversation below and learn all about the story behind the stories…

 

Katie Couric: Lisa, in your book “Three Women” you profile (surprise!) three women with very different life stories and experiences.  How did you find them and what was the process like?
Lisa Taddeo: Reporting the book was intensely and maddeningly different day to day. I drove across the country six times over eight years, trying to come up with a schedule that made sense. In the morning, I might post signs on coffeeshops and supermarket bulletin boards. On the windows of cars2go. On slot machines in casinos. On the fence outside the Prada Marfa art installation. In the afternoon, I’d write whatever I’d observed the day before, or transcribe tape, or write pages out of notes. In the late evening, I’d eat dinner (inside the limited kitchen of my conversion van) while posting things on the internet. I’d read and write. Panic.

Then I (somewhat blindly) moved to Indiana, to be near the Kinsey Institute, and I started a women’s discussion group, where I found Lina. A housewife whose husband no longer wanted to kiss her on the mouth, who said that the sensation offended him.

I found Maggie while I was investigating a lead that a group of immigrant waitresses working at a coffeeshop were being trucked into the local oil fields to have sex with the men who worked there.  I read in a local newspaper about a trial which had just ended. A young woman had brought charges against North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, for a relationship they allegedly had when she was 16 and 17.

I found the third woman after moving to Newport, Rhode Island to follow the stories of a few other people, and then I heard rumors about Sloane, a gorgeous entrepreneur whose husband liked to watch her have sex with other men. The first rumor I heard, however, was that her husband wanted to sleep with her every day, and not only did she allow it, she enjoyed it. That was wild to hear. That it would be considered shameful for a woman to want to be intimate with her husband on a daily basis.

Katie: The book is so intimate.  How did you win their confidence so they would trust you telling their stories?
Lisa: More than wanting to “get the story,” I wanted all the subjects of this book to feel heard and not used.  Lina came from a very Catholic home, had no friends in whom she could confide, and merely wanted someone to listen.  She had recently reconnected with her high school lover and was dying to describe every interlude because she was finally being seen and felt. Maggie wanted her version of the story heard when an entire town banded against her. Sloane, similarly, hadn’t told anyone other than her best friend about her intimate life.

The instances I most loved came when I was observing them from a distance, quietly writing, taking notes, taking in the environment while not being a part of the action. For example, after Lina was intimate with Aidan in their sacred spot, I would travel there right after, to take in the smells and sounds and sights of the river at dusk. So I could best describe the milieu, so I could best layer onto what Lina had just told me.

Katie: I know there were other women you met but they weren’t included in the book.  Was that a hard decision to tell the stories of just three?
Lisa: Yes, very hard. Two people, a man and a woman, both fell off towards the end. The woman, with whom I’d been speaking for over six months, had just begun a relationship and didn’t want the new partner to know about her past. No matter how much I would disguise her, she was petrified. I didn’t push. Beyond that, there were about 15 people in the first draft. The three women were not only the largest segments, but the ones who’d let me into their minds and hearts in so intimate a manner. It took me eight years to find people like that. Who not only had compelling stories, but wanted to share them, were willing to do so with raw honesty, for no personal gain other than to help others feel heard, too.

Katie: What do you think each story says about the state of women in America right now?Lisa: I don’t think the book necessarily says anything about the state of women in America. I wanted to light a window into three lives. Three love lives. Three women’s love lives. We have spent centuries listening to men, agreeing that they have these powerful needs. I wanted to give voice to women, these specific women, who don’t speak for all women, but speak very powerfully for themselves.

Some people have asked me why the book is glum, why the women are glum. Their experiences are sometimes traumatic but mostly triumphant. Three Women is a study of trauma to the extent that life is a study of trauma. Trauma is a part of passion, even if the passion endures. At length someone dies, or someone will die.  It’s all a part of the human experience. In Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist, the narrator says, “The simple question ‘What color do you want to paint that upstairs room?’ might, if we follow things to their logical conclusions, be stated: ‘How do I live, knowing that I will one day die and leave you?”

The three women in the book—indeed all people in the world—are either the heroes or the victims of their own narratives, depending on the day; often times depending on the hour. Looking at just the pain is not the point. We suffer pain when we take risks. We suffer even when we don’t. But these women did take big risks. They also have a remarkable depth of feeling. Where there is depth, there is always a storehouse of pain.

Katie: Your writing is incredibly eloquent and lyrical. You recommended that I read fiction while I write my memoir.  Is that something you did and why do you think it’s a good idea?Lisa: Yes. I like to read fiction when I write nonfiction and vice versa. I think it helps when you’re writing nonfiction to remember that you should plumb the depths of the mind; it helped me to ask the women questions that I normally might not ask.  Rather than just being concerned with the Dickens of it all, the where were you born and what did you eat, I moved into, How did that first bite taste, how was it different from the last.

Katie: You’re working on a novel right now. What can you tell us about that?
Lisa: I have to edit it, but it’s mostly done. It’s called Animal and it’s about female rage. Not glum, but not NOT glum.

Katie: Your book comes out today?  What are you feeling right now?  And is there any trepidation on the part of the women who bared their souls to you?
Lisa: The main thing for me is the women. It keeps me up at night, worrying about whether people will react negatively towards them, which is something they’ve unfairly dealt with for much of their lives. As we all do. We judge each other when we are envious, when we feel shame. Often our judgment is just our own shame projected onto others. These three women were judged cruelly, but one commonality they shared was that I never saw them judge anyone else. They knew too well how awful it was.

Katie: Thanks so much, Lisa!