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Three Women by Lisa Taddeo reviewed by Sophie Staughton

Lisa Taddeo lays out the brutal truth of female desire in all its infinitely nuanced forms in Three Women. A compelling, non-fiction story about Maggie, Lina and Sloane. Three women telling their truths; naked, and exposed to the hard gaze. The gaze of other women is the hardest of all. 

Maggie, a girl groomed by her teacher Aaron (the North Dakota Teacher of the Year). His mobile phone logs tell an unambiguous story of male power and privilege. Yet it is his charismatic approachability that is the strongest card played against Maggie when she has her day in court. 

Lina, whose teenage experiences of sex and power require many years to digest before she can understand what really happened to her. That she was no slut, but the victim of a society that feeds male entitlement to women’s bodies. Who hands her body and her mind over to a lover who uses her ruthlessly. A man who loves to be loved, and delivers powerfully on her needs when it is convenient for him to do so. 

Sloane, a woman with greater privilege socially but whose sexual autonomy is lost in the needs of her husband. A man whose desire for his wife is fed by watching her have sex with others. Her pain is smaller than that of other women, the ones she harms by coupling with their partners. 

The mark on the sisterhood she makes is just one of the many burns on her soul. Burns that stretch back to her mother’s own painful entry into adult life. Burns that are felt in the moment a brother breaks your trust; a trust you never know you had until it is gone. 

What is striking about the stories of these women is that even as each hands over herself completely to another man, she is also taking exactly what she needs. She is using, as she herself is being used.

This is the singular power of Taddeo’s work. There is no one way to understand what is happening. Her words are like a prism. You can turn the text and see its many angles. Yet still she positions her women, and their stories, at the centre. The work is not neutral.

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