LIsa Taddeo’s best-selling debut, Three womenIt was news both for its process and for its subject; Taddeo spent eight years moving around the US, immersing himself in his subjects in search of an intimate portrait of the sex lives of American women (straight, white). In each of his three case studies lurked the shadow of past or present abuse; Female desire, the book seemed to conclude, is inseparable from what men have done to us.
His first novel, Animal, explore the same territory. “I’m depraved,” announces its narrator, Joan, with a mixture of pride and shame. At 36, she has a fierce sexual appetite, but she also regards sex as a bargaining chip, an approach she learned at a young age from her aunt: “She taught me that men will use you unless you use them first.” Much of Joan’s inner monologue, and her dialogue, is related to the ambiguity she feels about her own desires and her obsession with the constant power games between men and women. “There are rapes, and then there are the rapes that we allow to happen, the ones that we shower and prepare for,” another woman tells him.
After Joan’s older, married lover shoots in front of her while she is having dinner with a new married lover, all of which is recounted in the opening paragraph, she herself sets out on a pilgrimage to Los Angeles in search of a young woman named Alice. , with whom he has a connection, although they have never met. She hints at her path into Alice’s life, even as she is haunted by the grief-mad wife and daughter of their dead lover, and all of this is marked by the fragmented revelation of Joan’s childhood trauma: the death of her parents and the terrible events that led her to wish “men who had a great happy life that I would never be a part of.”
In recent years, women’s fiction and drama has recognized the appeal of flawed and angry antiheroines who reject the demand to be “nice,” and Joan is recognizably part of a line that includes Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, Arabella from Michaela Coel and the protagonists of Megan Nolan’s Acts of despair and Emerald Fennell’s Promising young woman. Your combination of raw need, self-absorption, and cynicism is initially refreshing, until you start to feel bowed. She is prone to pronouncements that have an air of hard-earned wisdom, but on closer inspection they sound hollow: “Much about Alice was a contradiction, but that was true of most beautiful women.” “Men go crazy for a woman who is calm as a cat.”
Having marked his territory, of extreme frankness around sex, in Three women, Taddeo more than meets expectations in that regard. There is hardly a sexual experience that does not appear, and most have a negative stain. Rapes of various kinds, orgies, lewd older men, careless and cruel young men, child abuse, transactional or masochistic sex or driven by revenge. Even good sex with the man she loves leaves Joan feeling “empty, stupid and shitty.”
“You are all of us. You are the parts of us that no one wants to admit, ”Alice tells Joan, and perhaps this is what Taddeo wants, for Joan to represent the animal nature that women are taught to deny or repress. But it doesn’t quite work. Three women It was so compelling because the frankness had the stamp of authenticity; it was about real lives, real damages, patiently aroused after years of conversations and transformed into narrative. In fiction, the very explicitness necessarily feels fabricated. Furthermore, there is a level of Grand Guignol excess in Joan’s trauma and its aftermath that has the effect of distancing the reader from the serious questions at the heart of the novel.
“If there are too many bad things, [people] plug their ears and vilify the victim ”, observes Joan, towards the end. AnimalThe biggest flaw is that there are simply too many bad things piled on top of one another and, as a result, they lose their emotional impact.
None of which is to say that it is not also compulsive reading. Taddeo’s prose shines with all the dark wit and flashes of insight that readers and critics admired in Three women, and she’s especially sharp in the way women perform with each other. Like Coel’s I can destroy you, Animal He’s not afraid to grapple with big questions about sexual empowerment and consent, and he doesn’t claim to have found clear answers.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism