By David Canfield
July 09, 2019 at 11:43 AM EDT
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If you’re on the hunt for the book that everyone will be talking about this summer, look no further than Three Women. Lisa Taddeo’s debut book, reported over eight years and written in feverish, novelistic prose, earned endorsements from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Elizabeth Gilbert in advance of its publication, and has been racking up big pre-order sales. Now it’s hitting the shelves at last, destined for fiery book-club debates and best-selling glory.

In May, Taddeo joined EW in-studio as part of our Hot Summer Debut Authors Roundtable, where she discussed the inspiration behind Three Women, its interfacing with the #MeToo movement, and what she hopes readers take away. As she summarized her book: “[It’s] about three women — their sexual desires and lives. One is a housewife in rural Indiana. One is a restauranteur in the Northeast whose husband likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. And the last is a young woman in Fargo, N.D., who’d allegedly had a relationship with her teacher when she was underage.”

Elisabeth Caren for EW

Taddeo drove across the country and back again multiple times as she immersed herself in the lives of her subjects. The level of access and detail she received was extraordinary, offering readers a groundbreaking window into women’s sexual experiences. However, Three women wasn’t initially conceived that way; in fact, as she set out reporting the book, it wasn’t focused exclusively on women at all. “I’d been writing for Esquire a lot and I was very in tune with this male audience,” Taddeo says. “It was the opposite gender from mine, and I was intrigued by it. But then I started talking to a lot of men. The stories started to feel — there was a lot ego involved. Not in all the men, but in a lot of it. Women felt more complex and interesting.”

Three Women, as a project, was largely completed before the #MeToo movement kicked off in the fall of 2017, but the book certainly reads in conversation with it, tracing experiences of misogyny, shame, and power imbalances. Taddeo cautions that her subjects’ lives should not be reduced to those narratives. “Women want to not be sexually molested, but that doesn’t take into account what they do want,” she explains. “Sometimes, it exists on its own plane of desire, and sometimes it interfaces with #MeToo.”

However, she cites Maggie, the subject who had an alleged relationship with her teacher — the book traces the ugly legal battle between them that followed — as an example of how #MeToo could’ve changed the course of a woman’s life: “If the trial had happened post-#MeToo, I think it would have gone a different way.”

With deafening hype behind it for months, Three Women is already engaging critics and producing a range of takeaways from readers. As to what Taddeo herself hopes for its impact? She remembers how a friend of hers called one of Three Women‘s subjects “pathetic” as they talked about her situation. “We always condemn other people, like we’re picking out paint swatches: We look at a friend who’s strung up on some person and we’re like, ‘Oh, why are you doing that?” Taddeo says. “I just think we should be less judgmental. That’s my hope for the book.”

Three Women is now available for purchase. Watch clips of Taddeo on EW’s roundtable above, and be sure to watch the full conversation featuring Linda Holmes, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, and more.

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