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Non-fiction/biography set in Rhode Island, North Dakota and Indiana

27th February 2020

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, non-fiction/biography set in Rhode Island, North Dakota and Indiana.

Non-fiction/biography set in Rhode Island, North Dakota and Indiana

This is a quasi sociological telling of the lives of three different women, all with different stories to tell and all rooted in their sexual relations with men. The author says at the back of the book that she spent eight years and thousands of hours tracking the women whose stories comprise  “Three Women”, indeed even moving to the towns they lived in to better understand  their lives.

And that is all we get. Neither what prompted her to embark on this project, nor why she chose the particular women is divulged. The women are Maggie, Lina and Sloane, and it is like a snapshot meander through their lives, and let’s be honest, it is essentially an exploration of their sexual proclivities and desires. It is a non-fiction book that reads like fiction.

Sloane is married to Richard who likes a good old threesome. Sloane is happy to accommodate his wishes, both with male and female participants. It is just bound to go wrong. She acquiesces, enjoys it up to a point, but always feeds back to Richard. He is a charming and affable man (who seemingly gets off on controlling behaviour).

Lina is in a relationship with her husband who has no interest in having conjugal relations with her. He won’t even kiss her. She therefore turns to a previous beau, Aidan, and she too takes on a submissive role with her sexual partner. It is quite sobering and depressing how she literally lays herself open to his whims and his diary. Her neediness is profound and only he can satiate her it seems. She, too, allows herself to be controlled.

Maggie is 16 when her story starts and, unlike the other two women, was keen to use her own name because her story was roundly dismissed in court and by featuring in this book, she now has a voice. Aaron Knodel was one of her teachers in real life who allowed a relationship to develop with her. He is only too clearly aware that the age of consent in North Dakota is 18. And therefore he encourages her on all fronts apart from the act of actual intercourse. She offers him a copy of one of the Twilight books, and there is of course the clear allusion to Knodel’s vampiric persona. He too controls her.

When his wife finds out, he summarily dismisses her and leaves her to pick up the emotional fall-out. Several years later she shares what went on with her parents and Knodel is tried in court. But actually, it was she who was tried. He was voted 2013-14 West Fargo School District’s ‘Teacher of the Year” and her evidence was desultorily dismissed. He went back to his suburban life (what did his wife think?) and she had to get on with hers, now having to face a shower of slut shaming.

This is an incredibly compelling narrative. It worried me immensely that all three women were in thrall to the men in their lives. What happened to healthy boundaries, self respect and women’s emancipation? It is very much a book for the Fleabag era. What is stark is that the respectful balance of what it means to be in a healthy and fulfilling relationship still isn’t ingrained into society, the women are still complicit in fostering unhealthy relationships. Things haven’t really changed and that is utterly depressing.

Yes, there is a lot of sexual grinding and bodily exploration, so it won’t appeal to all. And yet, it has really stuck with me as a powerful chronicle. It offers insight into ordinary lives and different social groups in the USA. I also learned a lot. I learned that Indiana is the limestone capital of the world and the stone from there was used to rebuild the Pentagon after 9/11. I also will never look at a Cadbury’s Creme Egg in the same way (to which the author sweetly adds an accent grave, to wit crème, perhaps that is how they are marketed in the U.S). One of the characters exploits the very nature of this staple of the British confectionary scene.

The writing is very good but at times it can get a little florid and reaches beyond my level of understanding (Of Maggie: “..she wipes her eyes and walks out and passes the rest of the year like a kidney stone..“).

The cover. Well, that certainly needs a mention. It features “A Garland of Fruit” by Cornelis de Heem (1631-95) and fruit painted at this time would often by symbolic and was often linked to sex, sensuality and sin! So here are interpretations of just three varieties pictured:

  • The pomegranate: it indicates temptation and a fall from grace (and according to mythology it grew out of the blood pouring from the wounded penis of Acdestis. Bacchus is also involved!
  • The grapes: signifies a good time, how many paintings feature Bacchus (the good time god) with grapes perched on his head
  • The peach: represents virtue and honour but it also (inevitably) has erotic associations.

If you are comfortable with scenes of a sexual nature – and reading this doesn’t make you a prurient voyeur – then I think it is a compelling read.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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