Nonfiction November: Three Women

I’m in two ways with literary blockbusters. I want to read them to know what all the buzz is about (Atwood’s Testaments) and on the other want to keep to my niche ways and go exactly where the herds are not. Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women came out already some time ago, so I didn’t exactly ride the wave this time as I finished it this weekend. Very glad I did.

There’s so much hype and reviews about this book that you barely need to read it to figure out what it is about, but do read it in any case. Three Women is a study about three (real) women and their relationships with men. Yes, revolutionarily exciting. Each relationship comes with a twist, however.

Taddeo’s point, or possibly one of them, is to illustrate the omnipresent power imbalance between men and women that kind of seeps into a relationship. This can be easily disregarded by “that’s generalisation”, I give it to you. But what Taddeo argues with her stories is that there is something systematic to this imbalance, and it usually works in the man’s favour.

When a woman embarks on a relationship with a married man, she obviously has certain agency and makes a conscious choice. This might or might not end up well, and the story is as old as history, so there are gazillion ways to turn the story. Even in the best case scenario, it is about possessing and using power. What if the woman is in fact adolescent (we might or might not want to call her a child) and the man is her teacher, married with children?

What if a married woman feels trapped in her life and wants to experiment with an extramarital affair in order to stay sane? Is the amount of judgement by her peers in any way proportionate to what goes on, especially if compared to a married man carrying out similar liaisons (see above)?

What are the limits for women, especially mothers, in wedlock, to express their sexual desires, even if they do no necessarily match with the expectations of bourgeois life? And more precisely, whose expectations of a bourgeois life?

These are the issues minutely reported in Three Women. The book is not a feminist rant, but a very educational, recognisable and eye-opening study about humanity, power, exploitation and being a woman in today’s society. The women are all based in the U.S., but their stories are universal.

Taddeo spent eight years on the road talking to the three women, their friends, relatives, lawyers and investigators, as well as going through legal documents, recordings, letters and text messages. The result is an account that points a finger without really doing it. She’s an acclaimed journalist whose long-read “Rachel Uchitel* is not a Madam” for New York Magazine is brilliant as is her fictitious piece “Last Days of Heath Ledger” for Esquire.

Three Women is not your ultimate party-prep feel good situation, but an excellent snapshot of women’s desires and the ubiquitous, weird power-games that hover over everything. Strong thumbs up for NonFiction November.

*Tiger Woods’ alleged mistress.

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