Avid Reader / S. & S. Jun. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781982122126. $27.99. F
DEBUT After the highly regarded Three Women, a nonfiction portrait of female sexual experience, Taddeo offers a debut novel that is a ruthlessly exact study of the damage done to women—and that women sometimes do to themselves—in the search for love and belonging. As Joan sits in a New York restaurant with a man she professes to love, her longtime paramour enters and commits a horrific act of violence that sends Joan scurrying cross-country to find Alice, a woman she has only heard of but who she believes will help sort out her life. After settling into a dodgy abode in the Los Angeles hills, Joan locates the gorgeous, sharp-tongued Alice, with whom she forms an initially clingy, ultimately significant relationship. Along the way, the narrative unfolds a dark and scarring secret from Joan’s childhood, while showing how the very prospect of violence and violation defines the female experience. “There are rapes, and then there are the rapes we allow to happen, the ones we shower and get ready for,” observes Alice. There is rape here—Taddeo spares us nothing—and there is also sympathetic if unruly Joan’s dangerous propensity for self-sabotage: she sometimes has lurid visions of sex and forms ill-considered attachments to men who aren’t really there for her, failing to recognize the abuse she subsequently suffers. For readers, the result is relentless but never wearing, not preachment but real lived pain, and akin to standing in a hurricane with razor blades flying. There’s blood at the end—and a glimmer of self-affirmation.
VERDICT Offering a gutsily refocused look at the male–female power exchange, Taddeo brings Joan to awareness and some agency, challenging women to reconsider assumptions and desires framed by men even as she viscerally registers all the reasons for women’s anger. A brilliant if uncomfortable provocation, sometimes messily intense but willing to take risks; likely to stir talk--and argument.
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