The JRB presents an excerpt from Animal by Lisa Taddeo, the bestselling author of Three Women.
Bloomsbury Circus, 2021
I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me. He was a gluttonous man and when his blood came out it looked like the blood of a pig. That’s a cruel thing 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.
The restaurant was called Piadina. On the exposed brick walls hung photographs of old Italian women rolling gnocchi across their giant floured fingers. I was eating a bowl of tagliatelle Bolognese. The sauce was thick and rust-colored and there was a bright sprig of parsley at the top.
I was facing the door when Vic came in. He was wearing a suit, which was usual. I’d seen him only once in casual clothes, a t-shirt and jeans, and it disturbed me very much. I’m sure he could tell. His arms were pale and soft and I couldn’t stop looking at them.
He was never Victor. He was always Vic. He was my boss, and for a long time before anything happened, I looked up to him. He was very intelligent and clean and had a warm face. He ate and drank voraciously but there was a dignity to his excess. He was generous, scooping creamed spinach onto everyone else’s plate before his own. He had a great vocabulary and a neat combover and an extensive collection of fine hats. He had two children, a girl and a boy; the boy was mentally challenged, and Vic somewhat kept this from me and the other people beneath him. He had only a picture of the daughter on his desk.
Vic took me to hundreds of restaurants. We ate porterhouse at big clubby steakhouses with red banquettes, and the waiters flirted with me. They either assumed he was my father or my older husband or they figured I was a mistress. We were, somehow, all of the above. His actual wife was at home in Red Bank. He said, I know you won’t believe this because of what a slob I am, but my wife is actually very beautiful. In fact, she was not. Her hair was too short for her face and her skin was too white for the colors she liked to wear. She looked like a good mother. She liked to buy little salt dishes and Turkish towels, and in the beginning of our friendship, I would walk around the city and if a bamboo salt dish caught my eye I would snap a photo and text him, Would your wife like?
He said I had wonderful taste, but what does that mean?
It can feel very safe to be friends with an older man who admires you. Anywhere you are, if something goes wrong, you can make a phone call and the man will come. The man who comes should be your father, but I didn’t have one at that time and you will never.
At a certain point I began to rely on Vic for everything. We worked at an advertising firm. He was creative director. I had virtually no experience when I started, but I had this talent, he said. He promoted me from a regular assistant to copywriter. At first I enjoyed all the praise and then I started to feel like I deserved everything I got, that he had nothing to do with it. It took a few years for that to happen. In the interim we started up a sexual relationship.
I can tell you a lot about sex with a man to whom you are not attracted. It becomes all about your own performance, your own body and how it looks on the outside, the way it moves above this man who, for you, is only a spectator.
While it was happening I wasn’t aware of how it was affecting me. I didn’t notice until several years later, when three showers a day were not enough.
The very first time was in Scotland. Our company had landed an account with Newcastle beer and Vic suggested I take the lead, go to all the meetings and get the ball rolling. It was a big account and the rest of the guys were jealous. I was new to the company and the work in general. They stopped flirting with me and began to act like I was an exotic dancer, jerking themselves off and judging me at the same time.
Newcastle put me up in this luxurious hotel just outside of Edinburgh. It was cold stone and big windows, and the front entrance was a circular gravel drive. I would look out my window to see the cars that came through, old antiques and bright black G-wagons and small silver Porsches. There was a tartan quilt on the bed and the phone was a mallard duck. The room was fourteen hundred dollars a night.
I’d been in Scotland for about a week when I began to feel blue. I was used to being alone but it’s different in another country. The sun never came out but neither did the rain. Plus I was very naive about the work and the Newcastle representatives could see that. I called Vic at the office. I didn’t mean to, but I began to cry. I said that I missed my father. Of course I missed my mother, too. But in a very different way, and you’ll come to understand why.
Vic was in Scotland the next evening. His last-minute flight had been exorbitant, upward of twelve thousand dollars, and he paid out of his own pocket because I was terrified that our colleagues would think I’d failed. He didn’t come to any meetings. He just drew up some talking points. He got his own room down the hall. The first night we had dinner and drinks in the hotel lobby and each went to our separate rooms. But the second night he walked me back to mine.
- Lisa Taddeo is the author of Three Women. She has contributed to The New York Times, New York magazine, Esquire, Elle, Glamour, and many other publications. Her nonfiction has been included in the anthologies Best American Political Writing and Best American Sports Writing, and her short stories have won two Pushcart Prizes. She lives with her husband and daughter in New England.
‘Joan is an unforgettable anti-heroine. I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about her.’—Elizabeth Day
‘So insanely good and true and twisted it’ll make your teeth sweat.’—Olivia Wilde
A hugely anticipated, compulsive thriller from the brilliant, brazen, daring, sexy mind of the writer behind Three Women, the book that changed how we think about desire.
Animal is a depiction of female rage at its rawest, and a visceral exploration of the fallout from a male-dominated society.
I drove myself out of New York City where a man shot himself in front of me. He was a gluttonous man and when his blood came out it looked like the blood of a pig.
That’s a cruel thing 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.
I am depraved. I hope you like me.