Lisa Taddeo on the Motivation Behind Animal
Taking inspiration from the visceral stories that she encountered during the writing of her groundbreaking book about female desire Three Women, Lisa Taddeo's Animal is one of the most explosive novels that you will read in 2021. In this piece, the author digs deeper into her motivation for writing her debut novel and also addresses some of the most frequently asked questions concerning Three Women.
“I make myself attractive to men because I am afraid not to, because I still want what I wanted in Boulder and did not get, but the men are damn fools because I’m evil and I know it.”
— Jean Stafford, letter to James Robert Hightower, 25 July 1939
Few things bewilder me more than when people—especially women—ask those questions about Lina, Sloane, and Maggie, the subjects of my first book, Three Women.
The thing that happens when you listen to people at length, when you ask them questions about their deepest cuts, is that they tell you about them. They tell you the things that they walk around holding all day and that others cannot see.
There were so many more painful stories, even than the ones I shared in Three Women, and those stories have never left me. The other thing that hasn’t left me is the notion, simply speaking, that people don’t want to be “bummed out” by hearing about other people’s pain.
Yet another: the very quick and easy diagnosis that a bereft woman was “mad”. I found that with all of the women who had gone mad, it was very often because of someone who had driven them there.
Animal became, for me, a way to show the way that cuts—both small and large ones—deepen and manifest and metastasize over time to become canal-depth stripes. And these stripes are the markings of an animal, of a woman, in this case, turning into the very beast she has been whipped and/or caged into being.
I wanted to say that it is okay to have scars and stripes. I wanted to say that we shouldn’t keep lashing at the people with the scars, berating them for having been through “too much”. Which was actually something I heard too many times about Lina, Maggie, and Sloane of Three Women.
For centuries we have heard mainly from men: men have told us stories of death and dismemberment, we have listened to men as they talked about not being good enough men, or being cruel men who did not even know if they wanted to be better men. We have heard male writers list the attributes of nubile nymphs, we have been those nubile nymphs, or our daughters are now those nubile nymphs, and we have endured the skullfuckery that comes with being nubile one day and infertile the next. When it is the woman’s turn to write, to tell her story or her sister’s story, we are meant to tell the good news. We are meant to seduce and inveigle but not exactly challenge. We have been culturally and tacitly forbidden from releasing our guts onto our pages, while some men go to war simply so they can write about it.
With Animal I wanted to show the guts. I wanted to show the way the past can handicap you. Of all the stories I heard for Three Women, there were so many I couldn’t publish because the subjects had decided against wanting their stories made public, but there were also so many sadder stories that were happening to the people right next to me. I absorbed their stories, I lived with them and between them, and I have wanted to tell of the roads to hell that some of us take, that we don’t entirely choose.
I believe we each have a Joan in us. That we would like to deny the bitterness we carry around, all the rage at all of the cold speculums we’ve endured at the hands of men, and the cold judgments of our fellow women. But sometimes denying that very bitterness is what makes it overflow up out of our Thinx and our pores and makes us rage against each other, and, brutally, ourselves. Mostly, I wanted to show how we are quickest to condemn those who stand before the same cliffs we do, those who perhaps jumped when we wished we had, or those who, like us, jumped when we wished we hadn’t.
For the men who read this, both for those who have used cold speculums on women and for those who have warmed them first, I want you to know that simply by virtue of being a man, it does not mean you are to blame. Or rather, you are as at fault as a woman, you are as at fault at harming me as I have been to myself.
This book is to say, This is how bad it can get. We are the sum of our years, and some of us have had it base and hard and deplorable. Some of us have lost as much (and more) than Joan. These pages are for those people, may they know that others have been there, too; but these pages are also for the people who say they can’t understand why someone would be driven to certain ends by their lives. We are all animals, we are all just wanting to be loved and fed, and I hope this book makes you feel less lonely. I hope it entertains you, I hope that if it makes you feel dirty, it’s in a way that also makes you feel seen.
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