Three Women

Recommendation: You’ll smash through this in a couple of days, so, to quote Trump, “what’ve you got to lose, folks”

Where to read: Not on the bus*

Read with: I hate to encourage alcoholism, but I would suggest mainlining vodka until it doesn’t hurt anymore

In brief: It’s not a particularly pleasant read but it is easy and once you get sucked in, it is very hard to put down. Also, Stephanie Meyer has a lot to answer for.

This is another text best read in the relative (dis)comfort of social distancing. There are several reasons for this, the first being that there is an excellent chance fellow commuters will mistake it for Fifty Shades of Grey (and yes, that is a slightly bitchy comment about the quality of the prose). The second is that it is an excellent reminder, for the singletons amongst us, that men (and women) are fucking awful and having a slightly constrained dating life really isn’t that much of a loss.

Taddeo spent years shadowing her three protagonists and writing about their sexual and romantic lives. Two remain anonymous and their stories largely focus on their marriages (one miserable and one not) and their affairs. Sloane is successful and affluent and sleeps with other men at the behest of her husband – yes, Fifty Shades gets a mention. Lina is less successful and less affluent with a husband described in profoundly unflattering terms. She has an affair with her high school “sweetheart”, who is good in bed (or the back of a car) but treats her with a kind of callous cruelty that makes you want to throw the book at the wall and, if we’re being real with ourselves, thrill slightly with recognition.

Maggie is, however, “real” and her story is both the least (for me) understandable and the most tragic. While in high school, she had a “relationship” with her teacher. And by “relationship” I mean “was exploited by”. Several years later, she reported him to the police and, following precisely the trial you would expect, he was acquitted by the jury and she was ostracised by her town. It’s obviously a hard subject to write about and Taddeo does good work straddling the line between crediting Maggie’s feelings at the time and not ascribing a sexual knowingness or sophistication of the kind so often misattributed to underage girls by juries and society more generally. Particularly awful is the episode where she gives him a copy of Twilight and he marks it up and sends it back with annotations suggesting that she’s Bella to his Edward. While she reports finding it exciting and romantic, it is so obviously grooming it hurts.

By way of criticism, it is almost painfully white and her tendency to mash words together in weird portmanteaus, sometimes several times in the same sentence, does get irritating at points. The unending mediocrity of everyone involved does, I will admit, get a little tiresome. I think it’s also been something of a victim of its own success in that it isn’t nearly as universal as it is purported to be – as the title suggests, it is nothing more or less than three women and that is not a statistically significant sample size.

*The elderly lady sitting next to me during some of the more explicit sex scenes looked quite uncomfortable

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