A Review of the Novel "3"

Author: Julie Hilden
ISBN 0-452-28443-0

Reviewed by Kristine Hawes

The first threesome I ever participated in was the first sex I ever had. When you are fourteen, a threesome is all about fucking, licking, cock, pussy, and DAMN! that wonderful feeling right there! Threesomes are certainly not about love. The three of us met, we fucked, and we never really saw each other again. It wasn't until I was in my twenties that I realized how odd a threesome was for your first sexual encounter, and how odd it was not to have emotional baggage associated with a threesome. In Julie Hilden's book, "3", she takes the fiery sex of three naked bodies and wraps it up into devastating emotional and obsessive vignettes. This is not fourteen-year-old sex -- not by a long shot.

Wrapped up in the sensual mystique of threesomes are the ever-present questions that women ask themselves: what does it mean to fuck someone who isn't your "partner", what is commitment, and what are our boundaries? Ms. Hilden's book examines the balance of intense physical desire with the emotional need for love and acceptance in such a way as to be oddly passionate and deeply disturbing at the same time.

Maya and Ilan, the main relationship in "3", seem to have the perfect college-love relationship until Maya discovers Ilan's extra-relationship affairs. In order to continue their relationship, Maya makes an extreme relationship bargain: She'll allow Ilan his extramarital affairs if he never chooses a partner without her and she always is present during the liaisons. My first shock of the story was that this was Maya's suggestion, not Ilan's. My feminist point of view is challenged: Doesn't she have enough self-confidence to leave the bastard? Then I am challenged once again at Ilan's cajoling and Maya's quick acquiescence:

"Will you marry me?" he asks.
"No, Not this way."
"Maya, you just explained, this is the only way I can be. And you're right. Don't you love me?"
"Of course I do."
"Then marry me. The only obstacle is gone. You took it away. Please, marry me."
"All right," I say quietly. It is a flaw in me; I love that surrendering moment.

Throughout the story, which is told completely through Maya's point of view, I was captivated by her naïve examination of the world and Maya's excruciatingly detailed view of her motivations. At times I wanted to shake her out of her apathy and at others, wallow with her in grief. She is a character that is so self-examining that she seems to not see the bigger picture that Ms. Hilden paints subtly.

One of best contrasts of the book is the sexual obsession of Ilan and the emotional obsession of Maya. They perform an odd balancing act that on the surface seems completely unrelated. This is paralleled in their writing careers, in their desires, and in the relationship itself. While Ilan's obsession with items dangerous leads them down a road toward physical breakdown, Maya's obsession with acceptance seems to actually pave that road.

"Can we please stop?" I ask him. I blurt it out. I wanted never to challenge him. But I can't help it.
"Stop what?"
"You know what."
"I thought we talked about this a long time ago. We went through this. We decided it together."
"But I didn't think it would be like this. I feel like I'm losing myself. Like I don't even have a self, I just do what you tell me."
"Which excites you." He raises his eyebrows at me, smug.
"We shouldn't have done the thing with Jennifer. You should have made me do it."
"You seemed to like it at the time. I see you with these women, Maya. You pretend it's just for me but I know you like it. It makes me jealous how much you like it, but I still let you. Isn't it exciting, to have new desires -- to change? That's why we're alive, isn't it?"
He kicks his feet up on the table and leans back casually as he quizzes me.
"I tried to change," he tells me, "and I couldn't. I'm not as lucky as you… Let me show you who you are. Experiment with me a little. I want to try something else with you."

This is no mere chronicle about three people fucking and living happily ever after. Truthfully, it's not a book I would even classify as typical erotica. While "3" is about sex and sexual acts, it is a complex story about how obsessions can become so binding as to choke out the life of their givers. This book is a dark look at the emotional and mental workings of fetish, desire, and codependency.

Ms. Hilden's apparently pristine background as a Harvard Law student does not show through in this account at all; her sexual encounters are raw and detailed without being brutal. Her characters have honest dimension. For obvious reasons, we associate most closely with Maya; yet, Hilden clearly delivers a real sense of Ilan's desperate desire to please his father, to feel intensity, and the gravity of his need through Maya's observations:

Imagining that we are on the dream platform is the only way I can tolerate the women now -- endure watching their pleasure as Ilan, inside them, presses so hard that it seems as if he wants to seal his flesh to theirs.

While there is an intensity and freshness to the darkness (if darkness can ever be called "fresh"), there was at least one cliché that was tiresome. Maya entangles herself with a woman named Karen who seems to be the epitome of the "Lesbian Girlfriend." When the relationship turns "Basic Instinct", you know how it will end. Even though these clichés existed, they do not seem to deaden the fear and repulsion you have for Karen.

While I liked the story's complexity and the intense sexual encounters, I would not pick up this book as a sexual stimulant. Many of the feelings that Maya encountered were too similar to my own demons. I closed the back cover with a sense of relief: glad to have read the story and glad to be out of it. However, that is the sign of good art -- it makes you feel something personal and captivating. I think that "3" forces the reader to take a close look at his or her personal relationship motivations and fears. It begs the question: could you survive the same?

A Review of the Novel "3"
© 2003 Kristine Hawes





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