With the impending publication of Animal, Lisa Taddeo’s debut novel, we’re sharing a conversation between the author and our editor, Adam Ross. Taddeo visited Sewanee during the book tour for her New York Times bestseller Three Women. While here, she sat down with Ross to talk about the success of Three Women, how its granular examination of desire reveals multi-perspectival empathy and rejects female sexual desire as taboo, and the ways in which writing nonfiction has shaped her approach to fiction.
Taddeo talks about challenges of writing Three Women: the dual duty of journalistic responsibility to obtain substantive material to recreate these women in the text, and the necessary dependency on those women’s varying degrees of openness—their willingness to lay bare their private, sexual, and emotional desires. This painstaking process of empathic reporting took nearly a decade to accomplish: “There were twenty people in the first draft and most of them were cut: some of them didn’t want to be in it anymore, or they wanted me to remove too many things,” she says. “But I could not keep things that were thin.”
In line with their discussion of genre constraints and authorial obligation, the two turn their conversation to Taddeo’s fictional work, which explores the mundane cruelty of male indifference, the deferral of female desire, and the power dynamics that govern heterosexual relationships. In these dynamics, Taddeo illuminates how female agency is often elided in favor of a narrative of absolute victimhood.
The conversation concludes with Taddeo’s story “The Huntsman” (from the Fall 2019 issue of SR), which is about a young woman whose boss—an older, married man—becomes obsessed with her. “[And] she allows the obsession to grow,” Taddeo says. “I wanted to explore that this young woman was not just doing this to herself, she was also screwing with this man’s brain. It wasn’t his pursuit of her alone; she could have at some point said ‘Enough, I don’t like you like that’. And she never does that, and the story ends with her not doing that, and how she’s not blameless.”
It is not surprising that Animal—out June 8 from Avid Reader Press—about one woman’s transformation from “prey to predator,” adds female rage to the author’s unflinching exploration of female desire and agency.
The Sewanee Review Podcast is recorded in the Ralston Listening Room at the University of the South. It is produced by Hellen Wainaina and edited by ProPodcast Solutions with music by Annie Bowers. Don’t miss any of our conversations with some of today’s best writers. Subscribe to the Sewanee Review Podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Lisa Taddeo’s books are available for purchase or pre-order from Bookshop.org.