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STORY BEHIND THE BOOK

With ‘Animal,’ Lisa Taddeo writes to human behavior’s extremes

David Wilson For

When Lisa Taddeo’s “Three Women” came out in 2019, the nonfiction book attracted attention for its frank discussion of female desire and sexuality. With her fiction debut this summer, “Animal,” Taddeo once again lets readers into her characters’ most intimate moments. But this is an even grittier read, starting with its title.

“I wanted to explore someone who had had so much happen that she was letting go,” Taddeo said, “kind of becoming an animal, getting down to her basic instincts.”

As for the novel’s depiction of sex and violence, Taddeo added, it just comes down to honesty. “Most of us, hopefully, lead pretty medium lives. I like telling the stories of people who live extreme lives. And that requires being extreme in the writing,” she said. “I’ve always known that the kind of writer I wanted to be was someone who just kind of told the truth, whether it was in fiction or nonfiction.”

As a child, Taddeo read her parents’ books, including lots of Stephen King — “I really liked horror stories,” she said.

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Writing about trauma, of which there is plenty in “Animal,” can be difficult, Taddeo admitted. “It’s really hard,” she said. “Sometimes I find myself more easily able to write about the things that scare me than to read them or watch them. It’s a kind of catharsis to me, digging in to my worst fears. I’m working out the things that I’m the most frightened of. It feels sometimes like a catharsis, or it helps other people going through the same things feel less alone.”

Connecting with readers matters to her. “One of the things I like the most about being an author is being to engage with people in that way — very cutting to the quick. Life is so brutal and hard and it’s also beautiful. And the combination of the two things is what’s interesting to me.”

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Lisa Taddeo will read 7 p.m. Tuesday in conversation with Katie Couric in a virtual event hosted by Harvard Book Store.


Kate Tuttle, a freelance writer and critic, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.