SINGAPORE - American journalist Lisa Taddeo wanted to write about sex and desire. She did not anticipate that this would lead to an eight-year journey in which she would speak to more than 600 people.
She eventually boiled this down to Three Women, her non-fiction debut, which goes painstakingly into the tiniest details of the lives of the titular women as they open up about affairs, unconventional relationships and sexual assault. It has since been picked up by television network Showtime to be adapted into a series.
Taddeo, 39, had read Thy Neighbour's Wife (1981) by Gay Talese, which explored American sexuality in the 1970s, but felt that it was told primarily from the male perspective. "There wasn't a book like that written about sex from a female point of view," she says over the telephone from London, where she is on a book tour.
"I didn't know what I was going to do when I set out to do it," she adds. "I was looking for real, genuine stories and I didn't know where to find them, so I drove across the country six times."
From the hundreds of people whom she had conversations with, she spoke to about 35 people for a month or more - sometimes even moving to be near them - whittled that down to 15 and finally decided to focus on just three, all women.
These women were Maggie, who had an affair with her married English teacher when she was a teenager and decided to report it aged 23, after he was named the state's teacher of the year; Lina, whose husband has rejected her sexually and who is having an affair with an old flame from high school; and Sloane, a successful restaurateur who sleeps with men and women whom her husband chooses for her.
Taddeo says she could not have opened up to a stranger in the way these women opened up to her. "They were completely honest and raw and let me into their lives in such a way that they hadn't really done for anyone else. They weren't getting anything out of it, except being listened to."
For Maggie, who lost the court case against her former teacher and met with censure from her community, it was a chance for her to share her side of the story. Taddeo was driving through North Dakota and had picked up a local paper covering the case.
Much of the work for the book was done before the #MeToo movement took off in 2017. Had Maggie's story taken place after #MeToo, says Taddeo, it might have unfolded differently.
"I think #MeToo has eradicated the shame of talking about what we don't want done to us, but there is still an element of shame when talking about what we do want. In fact, in the shadow of that reaction, we are afraid to say what we do want."
Taddeo is married with a four-year-old daughter who was born in the middle of her cross-country odyssey, which she says was "extraordinarily exhausting". She also has a novel and short story collection in the works.
She strove to keep herself absent from the narrative of Three Women. But in a prologue, she writes about her mother, who, in 1960s Italy, was followed daily to and from work by a stranger who would masturbate to her.
"My mother is dead now so I can't ask her why she allowed it, day after day," writes Taddeo, musing later: "We pretend to want things we don't want so nobody can see us not getting what we need."
Three Women ($29.95) is available at Books Kinokuniya.