Best-selling author Lisa Taddeo chats to Karah Preiss, co-founder of Belletrist book club, about her breakout title.
Editorial Image
Every so often a book appears and manages to engrain itself so profoundly in the culture that suddenly everyone seems to be reading again. Lisa Taddeo’s work of nonfiction, "Three Women", is one of those books. It’s an up-close, no-holds-barred look at female desire through the real lives of three American women. Karah Preiss, who co-founded the book club Belletrist with Emma Roberts, talks to the author about writing the summer’s most-talked-about read.
KARAH PREISS: Can you briefly explain what the book is about for those who may not have read it yet?
LISA TADDEO: The book’s “goal” was to peel back the layers of female desire. In particular, the desire of a few specific people. It was my hope to get as granular and as honest as possible, to light the windows into a few lives so we could see how similar we are when we are at our most exhilarated.
KP: Who did you choose to focus on? 
LT: Out of the hundreds of people I spoke to, and the 30 or so I spoke to for several months or more, the three people who remained were three women, who had given me the rawest access to their interior lives. Those three are a suburban housewife in Indiana whose husband told her that he no longer wanted to kiss her on the mouth, a young woman in Fargo, North Dakota who brought charges against the English teacher with whom she’d allegedly had an affair when she was an underage student. That teacher had just been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year. The third woman, Sloane, is an entrepreneur in the Northeast whose husband likes to watch her have sex with other men in front of him.

“The commonality that linked them was the way in which their communities judged them.”

KP: Did anything jump out as universal to all three individual stories? 
  The commonality that linked them, besides their compelling narratives and their willingness to relate them, was the way in which their communities judged them. 
KP: You’ve been a journalist for some time, with work appearing just about everywhere a journalist would want to be published. How did you decide that "Three Women" was going to be your first book? 
  [Laughs] The notion of deciding. I didn’t really! A kind and brilliant editor took me out to lunch after a story of mine was published in "New York Magazine" and asked me if I might be interested in writing a book. We talked about what that book might be. I’m really only interested in desire and death (is there anything else?) so I started thinking it might be nice to write a sort of updated version of "Thy Neighbor’s Wife", but from a female perspective.

 “I don’t think we’re comfortable with addressing female desire at all.”

KP: "Three Women" is ultimately a book about women’s desires. Do you feel as though, as a society, we are at all comfortable addressing or acknowledging that women have desires?
  I don’t think we’re comfortable with addressing female desire at all. I think we are finally and crucially talking about what we don’t want but we are still not talking about what we do want. It’s almost harder to do the latter. What I’ve found—based on some of the reactions to the book—is that women either feel heard by these women’s stories or they try to block them out. Sometimes art can be like looking in the mirror and that’s hard for a lot of us. 
KP: Is this a book for men as much as it is a book for women?
  Yes, I think so! One of my favorite comments from an early (male) reader was that, until reading the book, he hadn’t realized how indifference could be so wounding. I know that so many women—or whomever has less power in a given relationship—would be mollified to know that more people were understanding that.

KP: We often take the way men and women dress for granted, but you go into great detail to describe clothing choices that each woman makes. Did your writing this book make you think more about self-presentation, especially for women? How true is the statement: we are what we wear?
 There are a lot of people who think that what we wear doesn’t matter. That’s fine. But I find that even when it “doesn’t matter” to someone, it does in the sense that they have found a way in which they feel comfortable. For all the women in this book—indeed for almost everyone with whom I spoke—the way they felt in their bodies, the way they felt wearing the clothes on their bodies, that was a huge part of the confidence well for that day. It definitely made me think more about self-presentation. I’ve found a pair of soft black overalls and a T-shirt and clogs that make me feel just nice. And that’s almost half the battle when I go and do something public. I think we dress for women, we dress for men, we dress for the energy of a place.  

 “I think we dress for women, we dress for men, we dress for the energy of a place.”

KP: Of the three women, is there one who you personally related to the most?

  Lina. People have called her and her story pathetic. I think the word pathetic is pathetic. She was unguarded in conveying her hunger, and in going after the thing that she wanted. I have done the same, without being honest about it.
KP: You chose to keep Maggie and Aaron’s real names in the book. Why did you reveal their real identities and not the others? 
LT:    Maggie’s was a case of public record. I also wanted to tell her side of the story. To omit her name would not have let me accomplish that. The other two would not have given me what they gave me if I kept their real names. I also think that, in the Internet age, we can find out everything about a human being in two minutes. Their stories, the ones they told me, were not searchable on the Internet, and I didn’t want others to be able to graft their own notions onto these women’s truths. 

 “I think being a twentysomething right now, with Instagram, is absolutely soul-crushing.”

KP: Did your work on this book give you any insight into how the Internet has changed sex and sensuality in the past 25 years?

LT:   I think it’s gotten preternaturally harder, even just in the space of time I was reporting. I think being a twentysomething right now, with Instagram showing us how much hotter our friends looked at this party or how bluer their ocean is, is absolutely soul-crushing.
KP: Do you think your book would be different had you started it today? What I’m saying is, would “the climate” everyone refers to these days have affected your approach?
LT:  Yes and no. I think in the middle of the country—where I spent a lot of time—there are still so many people who have barely heard of #MeToo. It’s wild, but it’s true. I might have spent more time in showing the difference between the large cities and the small towns, but I actually do think the book does that, without naming the movement which had not yet occurred.