Lisa Taddeo, author of Three Women, shares an exclusive excerpt from her debut novel, Animal

By Sam Gillette
June 09, 2021 02:05 PM
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Lisa Taddeo
Lisa Taddeo
| Credit: Courtesy of Lisa Taddeo

In the opening scene of Animal, Vic, Joan's older-boss-turned-lover, shoots himself in front of her. His original intent was to kill her, Joan believes.

"He was a gluttonous man and when his blood came out it looked like the blood of a pig," writes Lisa Taddeo, author of the novel told from Joan's perspective. "That's cruel to think, I know. He did it in a restaurant where I was having dinner with another man, another married man. Do you see how this is going? But I wasn't always that way."

Joan immediately flees from New York City to an arid canyon on the outskirts of Los Angeles in search of Alice, the key to her past. The reader learns that Vic's death is one out of a multitude of traumas that Joan has and will experience at the hands of predatory men.

Joan is "depraved," she tells us. She will eventually commit her own act of violence against a man. But she's also a survivor.

"Joan is a repository for all of the things that I have seen other women going through and that I, myself, have gone through," Taddeo tells PEOPLE about her debut novel, which published on Tuesday. (See an exclusive excerpt below.) "What I feel for Joan, more than anything, is empathy."

In 2019, Taddeo released Three Women, a masterful feat of literary journalism. The book is a deep dive into the sexual desires of three different but innately connected American women. Taddeo spent close to a decade researching and interviewing an array of potential subjects before introducing readers to Lina, Maggie and Sloane.

"There were a lot of stories... that I wasn't able to tell in [Three Women] that I felt were so primal and compelling. They made it into Animal through a fictive filter," Taddeo explains. "Animal was the revenge that I would've liked all of us to have, in a sense, for the women in Three Women. Whatever revenge was sought, I would like them to have it. Animal was a little bit of a giving that to them/us."

Lisa Taddeo
Credit: Avid Reader Press

In the novel, Joan is calculating and hyperaware of her effect on the opposite sex. It's her defense against men like a young store clerk, who "was picking a pimple on his chin and staring at me," Joan explains in Animal. "There are a hundred such small rapes a day."

"There are a thousand little transgressions that happen all the time, in our daily lives," Taddeo tells PEOPLE. "There's this weight that is on a woman's shoulders, if she's interacting with a man in business, or any platonic situation, where she has to manage his desire."

Animal explores the way "our collective trauma informs every step that we take," Taddeo explains. It's about the lasting impact of one's childhood - or, in Joan's case, her orphanhood. It's about motherhood and desire and the cataclysmic cost of male greed. But, mostly, it's about female rage.

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Taddeo explains that the novel is for all women, but especially those who have "experienced really dark s---." Joan reclaims her agency, and so can other survivors.

"I want women to feel less alone, if they've had similar rage that's been built up, and to know that you don't have to be ashamed to have the feelings of rage," Taddeo says.

In Animal, Taddeo lays bare the full cost of being a woman, with a lesson for those who encounter female rage in the future.

"We've been shouldering a lot for a very long time," she says. "When we're angry, don't call us crazy."

Keep reading for an excerpt from Animal.

If someone asked me to describe myself in a single word, depraved is the one I would use. The depravation has been useful to me. Useful to what end, I couldn't say. But I have survived the worst. Survivor is the second word I'd use. A dark death thing happened to me when I was a child. I will tell you all about it but first I want to tell what followed the evening that changed the course of my life. I'll do it this way so that you may withhold your sympathy. Or maybe you won't have any sympathy at all. That's fine with me. What's more important is dispelling several misconceptions-about women, mostly. I don't want you to continue the cycle of hate.

I've been called a whore. I've been judged not only by the things I've done unto others but, cruelly, by the things that have happened to me.

I envied the people who judged me. Those who lived their lives in a neat, predictable manner. The right college, the right house, the right time to move to a bigger one. The prescribed number of children, which sometimes is two and other times is three. I would bet that most of those people had not been through one percent of what I had.

But what made me lose my mind was when those people called me a sociopath. Some even said it like it was a positive. I am someone who believes she knows which people should be dead and which should be alive. I am a lot of things. But I am not a sociopath.

Lisa Taddeo
The author
| Credit: J. Waite

When Vic shot a hole in himself, the blood leaked out like liquor. I hadn't seen blood like that since I was ten years old. It opened a portal. I saw the reflection of my past in that blood. I saw the past clearly, for the first time. The cops came to the restaurant looking horny. Everyone had been cleared out of the place. The man I'd been eating with asked me if I would be okay. He was putting his jacket on. He meant would I be okay alone tonight and for the rest of my life because I would never see him again. Once he'd asked me who my group was and I didn't know what he meant and now I did. The dead man on the floor was my group. I was part of a group that Dartmouth didn't recognize. After the cops left I walked home to my apartment. I thought I had no carbohydrates in the house, but I found a taco kit. The worst thing about eating too much is that you need more Klonopin than usual. I got just high enough to be decisive. I decided I was going to find her.

Vic was probably cold by then. I pictured his cold tentacles. When someone suffocates you with what they believe is love, even as you feel your air supply being cut off, you at least feel embraced. When Vic died, I was completely alone. I didn't have the energy to make someone else love me. I was inert. Vuota. A word my mother would have used. She always had the best words.

There was one person left. A woman I'd never met. This was terrifying because women had never loved me. I was not a woman whom other women love. She lived in Los Angeles, a city I didn't understand. Mauve stucco, criminals, and glitter.

I didn't think Alice-that was her name-would love me, but I hoped she would at least want to see me. I'd known her name for years. I was almost positive that she didn't know mine. For the first time in a long time I was going somewhere for a reason. I had no idea how it would go in California. I didn't know if I would f--- or love or hurt someone. I knew I'd wait for a call. I knew I would be rabid. I had zero dollars but didn't rule out the prospect of a swimming pool. There were many paths my journey could take. I didn't think any of them would lead me to murder.

From Animal by Lisa Taddeo. Copyright © Animal by Lisa Taddeo. Reprinted by permission of Avid Reader Press, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.