Katrina Denza

I’d heard how good this literary creative nonfiction book was, heard it was a look at desire through the eyes of three women, and as the topic of desire is of particular interest to me, I ordered a copy. This is not the book I thought it would be. It is good, yes. The writer is talented and all the elements of the book, narrative voice, structure, evocative situations, are brilliant. Sometimes, it reads as though the writer took creative liberties, not with the facts, but with the telling of them, but ultimately, she does a good job allowing each woman to have her own voice. For the most part, this is a book that feels as if three different women are sitting down with you and telling you their most painful, exhilarating, shameful, wonderful secrets. As far as desire goes…it’s not the book I thought it would be.
For this to be about female sexual desire, we’d have to assume that all three women had full agency, but can a young woman of sixteen really have agency? There is sexual desire in these pages and that desire, at times, is all-consuming, obsessive, and at odds with the morals and situations of each of the women. But sexual desire is only the surface layer. If we were to break the ice and peek beneath, we’d find the driving forces: the desire to be loved, desire to be special, desire to be heard, desire to be protected, and so on.
As a reader, the distance and wisdom we bring to the pages enable us to view events without distraction of emotion. Each of the women may feel certain she is the only woman alive to feel the way she does; as readers, we see her situation is heartbreakingly cliché. We come to understand that female desire portrayed in Three Women, in all of its various patterns played out in the lives of these women, exists merely to serve, in the end, male desire.
            We live in a society that still struggles with the Madonna/whore complex. Women must be either/or, without ownership or acknowledgement of all the wonderful gray areas in between. Male desire, in contrast, is catered to, unquestioned, and often glorified. When male desire strays into social taboos, the straying is often downplayed: men will be men. Ha. Ha.
 In each of these stories, these women are seemingly enjoying their sexuality, enjoying the interactions with the men that make them feel so beautifully alive. But we see how vastly wounded these women are…often by other men, past and present, and those wounds continue to script their lives. We see how these women have settled because they’ve learned that settling is all they’re entitled to, settling is better than the alternative: being alone. The encounters of each at first appear to be life-affirming and wondrous, but as we live with them on the pages, we come to see the situations as merely sad.
I would like to read a book about female sexual desire, desire without apology for existing, desire that isn’t a hot poker in a dulled, unhappy life, desire that isn’t the product of male-inflicted wounds. That book would be a celebration, of feminine power, of feeling alive, of taking control of the last frontier. Though this is not that book, this is a book grounded in reality. A powerful compilation of brave stories that many women, unfortunately, will be able to relate to, stories we all, women and men, can learn from.

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