Monday, August 21, 2023

Lisa Taddeo’s THREE WOMEN: A North Dakota Student-Teacher Sexual Affair


Here’s part of Amazon’s synopsis for Lisa Taddeo’s (non-fiction) book Three Women:

In North Dakota we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who allegedly has a clandestine physical relationship with [Mr. Aaron Knodel] her handsome, married English teacher; the ensuing criminal trial will turn their quiet community upside down. 

Based on years of immersive reporting and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy.

As the other two women, Lina and Sloane, may not be relevant for our purposes, we’ll naturally focus on Maggie’s story. 

(Note: In the author’s note, Taddeo reiterated that the book, which she described as “a book about human desire”,  is a work of fiction that took her eight years to complete while spending “thousands of hours” with the Three Women. In addition, Taddeo referenced: “[...] court documents and local news articles and [she] spoke to reporters, judges, attorneys, investigators, colleagues, and acquaintances to confirm events and timelines.”

In the prologue, Taddeo provided an introduction to Maggie's story where we learned that Maggie was being called a “whore and fat cunt” due to her: “[...] alleged relationship with her married high school teacher.” 

Interestingly, unlike the women who called Maggie a “whore and fat cunt”, but like Betsy Karasik and Petronella Wyatt, Taddeo appeared to condone the student-teacher relationship. Taddeo wrote:

[T]o experience such a relationship, and then have it abruptly end: I could easily imagine the gaping hole that would leave. 

And Taddeo wrote that Maggie’s: “[...] sexuality and sexual experiences were being denied in a horrific way.” Therefore, Taddeo decided to write the “narrative as seen through” Maggie’s eyes - not the version of the story the prosecutors put: “[...] before a jury who saw it differently.”

Interestingly, to the dismay of feminists, Maggie shared with Taddeo that she possessed: “A certain power, dictated by her age [i.e. the fact that she was a schoolgirl] and her former lover’s occupation.” 

Maggie’s chapter opened with the revelation that, although it’s been six years since their age-gap affair, Maggie’s still attracted to her (former) teacher. So much so that 23-year-old Maggie primped for court. For example, “A neutral, smokey eye. A heavy lash.” and “[...] leggings, and a sheer kimono top.” with the hope that her (former) teacher still wanted her and that Mr. Knodel would “[...] lament what he lost.” 

As a matter of fact, it’s implied that one of the reasons Maggie went to the police was to force Mr. Knodel to show his face to her again. 

You might even say one of the reasons you went to the police was to get him to show his face again. Because most people will agree - when a lover shuts down, refuses to meet you [...] it’s as though someone is freezing your organs. For six years, he stayed away. But he will come today, and he will come also to the trial, so in a way, it can be said that one of the reasons you’re doing this is because it means you’ll see him about six more times. This is an outlandish notion only if you don’t know how a person can destroy you by the simple act of disappearing.

Since the age-gap affair ended, Maggie had been “self-loathing” and “wallowing in otherworldly dread” but hoping that Mr. Knodel had been feeling the same way and hoping that the only reason he had chosen to “remain unhappy, without” her was due to his children - not his wife. 

In the courtroom, Maggie desired to hold her (former) teacher’s face and say: 

“Oh fuck I’m sorry for betraying you. I was terrifically angry [...] Look at me. I put this war paint on, but underneath I’m scarred and scared and horny and tired and love you.”

Unlike My Dark Vanessa’s Vanessa who had to be convinced that she was a victim in her student-teacher affair, Maggie admitted that she was not a victim but that she had: “[...] fully personified my victim costume.” 

Unsurprisingly, Maggie wasn’t the only schoolgirl attracted to Mr. Knodel whom was described as “hot”, “charming”, “the catch” and exciting. Taddeo wrote of Maggie:

She had only heard about him. Some of the girls were talking about how hot he was. Slick black hair with a little front wing, like it had been gelled into permanent place. Charming, dark eyes. The kind of teacher who makes you want to come to school even in cold North Dakota mornings. His name, in the hallways, had become the kind of name one whispers, because of how much excitement it conjured.

Oahu, Hawaii

And unsurprisingly, Mr. Knodel wasn’t Maggie’s only age-gap affair. Intriguingly, Dane, Maggie’s brother-in-law, purchased a plane ticket from North Dakota for Maggie to visit him and Melia, Maggie’s sister, in Oahu, Hawaii. One night, while Melia was home with her baby, Dane took: “[...] Maggie out with his friends.” Subsequently, the two attended a toga party where 16-year-old Maggie met 31-year-old married Mateo: “[...] originally from Cuba, broad-shouldered, charming.”

For some reason: “Melia and Dane don’t think it strange when, a couple of nights later, Mateo shows up at their place [...] to take Maggie out for dinner.”

Melia and Dane weren’t stressed and Maggie was impressed by Mateo’s dinner invitation to Appleebee’s, which they drove to in Mateo’s “man’s car”. Mateo looked “super nice”, unlike the boys back home, Mateo lit her cigarette, he opened the car door for her, and he cared that she was satiated. Maggie was: “[...] in Hawaii with a man, on a proper date.” After dinner, the age-gap couple went for a walk on the beach where Mateo informed Maggie, “I want to kiss you.” 

Mateo, who was: “[...] unlike a high school boy, [and] he wasn’t ashamed of his desire”, subsequently took Maggie, with her: “[...] long, wild hair. Her strong thighs and her soft breasts”, to his motorcycle club’s meet-up in verdant hills where they had potluck breakfast before going for a ride. Naturally, Maggie was the only nymphet present, and she felt “gloriously” out of place. After holding onto Mateo’s back for hours, they arrived at Mateo’s place where, despite being a virgin, Maggie “[...] wants it more than he does.” Consequently: “Maggie lies down on the bed first. They fuck for twenty minutes.” “After it’s over he doesn’t take her home right away. They lie in his bed and talk for a long time.”

Days later, naively: “[...] Melia drops Maggie off at Mateo’s house for a bonfire.”

Melia asks, What time should I pick you up? Maggie says she wants to stay over. I will sleep on the couch, Mateo tells Melia. Later, in bed, Maggie doesn't intend it, but the words fly out of her mouth. 

I think I love, she says. 

Shortly thereafter, the age-gap affair ended after Mateo and Maggie were seen kissing: “[...] at a barbecue and Dan and Melia’s house.” (The age of consent in Hawaii is 16, but it's 18 in North Dakota.) 

Back in North Dakota, via a letter that she passed to him after class, Maggie confided in Mr. Knodel about her age-gap affair with Mateo:

To just say, Hey, I had sex with this guy in Hawaii and it was fun and the ocean was fantastic [...] and I felt sex and pretty and like myself.”

After returning home, Maggie tells other schoolgirls about Mateo and: [...] she longs for the man to whom she lost her virginity.” 


David Beckham

Maggie matriculated into Mr. Knodel’s English class at the beginning of the second semester of her freshman year while: “Maggie is in love with David Beckham.” (Note: No word on how Beckham [parasocially] groomed Maggie.) Consequently, Maggie and Mr. Knodel talked after class when he would look into her eyes and listen: “[...] like a good teacher.” Maggie would: “[...] linger after class, or he would ask her a question when she was on her way out the door.” For example:

He might say, Hey, everything okay at home? And Maggie would hang back and tell him whatever was new. He was a good teacher, and he cared. Sometimes there’s nothing better on earth than someone asking you a question. 

By her junior year, Maggie and Mr. Knodel had “become close” and during her senior year Christmas break, they communicated, “[...] into the late evening [...]”, while Maggie visited family in Colorado. “Her head gets light from the excitement of it [i.e. the text messages from her teacher]”

He writes, I’m a teacher and you’re a student, and we shouldn’t be talking like this. 

And she is like, Okay.

But she feels, already, his hands down her pants.

Since Maggie’s freshman year, “something” had been “building” between her and Mr. Knodel - “[...] a steady accumulation.” A (teacher) crush.

Like any young girl who has a crush on someone older, she doesn’t know what she wants to happen. She doesn’t know if she wants sex or no sex or to undress in her room while he watches from the sidewalk. Mostly she just wants a small suggestion of excitement. An anonymous bouquet on a doorstep. 

Maggie entered Mr. Knodel’s speech and debate class on the first day after Christmas break, and they look at eat other perfectly: 

She finds her seat and then she looks at him, and it’s perfect.

The way he looks at her is absolutely perfect.

He has this way of normalizing a situation while also acknowledging the spark. 

Although they met during Maggies’s freshman year, their first student-teacher date was at Barnes & Noble during her senior year. “It’s a really easy place to bump into each other without looking conspicuous.” Before entering the bookstore, Maggie reapplied her lip gloss while feeling important due to the “illicit” nature of the rendezvous. “She knows she has to be a child and a woman all at once [...]”

One of the reasons Maggie was attracted to her teacher was due to his power, but not the power he had over her as a teacher, but the power he had over himself (e.g. his emotions).

That he can keep other information in his brain beyond the Ahhhh of lovecrush he is already and forever the alpha of their arrangement. [...] he has brain space for reading books and raising children and interacting with employees in big box stores. That, she decides, is power.”

(That is a concept that feminists and teen boys deny. If a man possesses the characteristics of charisma such as possessing a high level of self-esteem, a high level of self-confidence, and he’s powerful (i.e. he possesses a high level of self-control), he’s going to be attractive - regardless of his age.)

After purchasing a copy of Freakonomics, Maggie goes for a ride in her teacher’s car where she comes to the realization that: “He’s top shelf. Being with him, she feels her own stock rise.” Consequently: “She would have eaten a roach to be able to hold his hand.” Subsequently: “The best part of her whole life happens next. He slows to a stop on a quiet street [...] and just looks at her [...] and she feels like a supermodel.”

As the date ends: “Maggie wants to cry [...] She’s hoping he will kiss her. It’s all she wants. She can’t remember a time when she ever wanted anything else.”

In terms of Marie, Mr. Knodel’s wife, Maggie is unbothered. “Maggie is the sun, Aaron is the moon, and Marie is Saturn, ever orbiting, ever home, ever watching.”

The student and teacher texted all day and talked all night - “[...] after the kids and Marie are in bed [...]”, but Maggie was prohibited from sending the first text, which Maggie conformed to because she wanted: “[...] to do everything to preserve the relationship,” and their “forbidden love”.

One night Mr. Knodel texted: “I think I am falling in love with you.” Maggie replied: “I want to tell you how I feel in person.” The next day, with his wife out of town, Maggie’s teacher invited her to his house - “[...] after the boys are in bed.”

Thirty minutes into Dan in Real Life (2007), the student and teacher kissed. 

Finally, she thinks, his mouth! She can’t believe it. Her heart pounds, her hands shake. His mouth! And just like that, she is inside it. 

I love you, she says.

He smiles and says, I love you, too.

Subsequently, they moved to a spare bedroom where Mr. Knodel slid two fingers into his student and performed oral sex on her, “Oh, Aaron! she says. She doesn’t moan too loud, because she is aware of his children upstairs.”  Consequently, Maggie had her first (non-mastabatory) orgasm. “He is the first man ever to do this, though two and half men came before him. He smiles proudly, emerging from between her thighs.”

Due to his wife not having any future trips planned, Mr. Knodel, “quietly”, set up a classroom lunch date with Maggie where they kissed: “[...] at the table by the cupboards.” Mr. Knodel placed his student’s young hand on his penis and said, “Feel how hard you make me.” 

On subsequent lunch dates, they only kissed, but during a pre-school rendezvous, Mr. Knodel “lightly” kissed Maggie’s neck, and he fingered the young blond while he: “[...] simultaneously grind[ed] himself against her backside. She casts her head back and moans. For seven minutes this goes on and she feels she might come at any moment. Then someone wiggles the knob of the [locked] door.” 

One night, Maggie retrieved her teacher from a TGI Friday’s. As Maggie drove her mother’s Taurus, Maggie’s teacher kissed her and put his hand down her pants. “She nearly clips a parked car.”

“Over the next month”, Maggie learned that Mr. Knodel wanted to eventually leave his wife, but in the meantime and despite their age-gap love for each other, Maggie must: “[...] immediately delete all texts. There were thousands by this time.” And Mr. Knodel gave Maggie his wife’s phone number: “[...] to program it into her phone so that she would never, ever [...] answer if that number showed up on her screen.”

Shortly before Valentine’s Day, Maggie gave Mr. Knodel her copy of Twilight. Taddeo wrote that Maggie was “moved” and “exalted” by the voluminous, detailed and self-scented Post-it notes that her teacher placed in Twilight

“She could hardly believe that the teacher she so deeply admired had read the whole book, let alone taken the time to write such insightful commentary [...]”

On Valentine’s Day, Mr. Knodel gave his student: “[...] a bag of Peanut Butter M&M’s, which were her favorite candies, and a typed letter. It is specific about why he loves her.” 

He has begun to call her Love [...] He says on her eighteenth birthday, they will skip school and make love. The whole day, they will be entwined.

Later, Maggie wrote that she wanted to: [...] commit herself to unconditional love.” She wrote that she knew that it was wrong to love her teacher, but she wondered how love could be wrong. Nonetheless, she wanted to commit.

On Mr. Knodel’s 30th birthday, Maggie forgot the rules, and she texted him first. The text arrived during the 7:00 A.M. hour while her teacher was in the shower but while his wife was near his phone. Consequently, the student-teacher affair ended abruptly, and Maggie: “[...] vomits violently in the toilet. [...] She tells her mother she’s sick and doesn’t come out of her room for the rest of the day.”

Maggie assumed that the last day of her senior year would be the last day she saw Mr. Knodel - “[...] the love her of life.” Ergo, she hugged him, contemplated kissing him, and cried and shook in his arms. 

However, a week later they communicated via MSN Messenger. “She says how much she misses him.” But: “The next day there is an MSN message.” 

She found you in my contacts again, your area code. We can never talk again. 

Almost three years later and at the age of 20, Maggie was: “[...] still not over [Mr.] Aaron [Knodel]” [Emphasis added]

A man like him was a hero, especially when you grow up among boys, with their small principles and their shallow field of vision, who watch porn and debate nothing. She thinks, daily, of Aaron’s body and face and words and the protection she felt in his arms. 

However, unsurprisingly and typically, Maggie’s turning point(s) arrived via jealousy. 

Maggie's first turning point came when she learned that Mr. Knodel had been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year. At the time, Maggie was depressed and was still “pining after” her “older, married teacher”; thus, she considered Mr. Knodel’s award a “cruel offense”, that he was “rubbing it in her face”, and that she didn’t: “[...] mean shit in the world of Aaron Knodel.” 

The second turning point came after Maggie shared the details of her illicit affair with Addison whom replied: “There’s no way you’re the first, which means no way you’ll be the last.” Subsequently, before Maggie walked into the police station, she informed her parents, “When I was a senior I had an inappropriate relationship with my teacher, Mr. Knodel.”

Among other accolades, Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women was a #1 New York Times Bestseller and was named A Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post.

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