on January 3rd 2017
Also by this author: Bad Feminist
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, The Book Depository
I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State—which earned rave reviews and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, NPR, the Boston Globe, and Kirkus—and her New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.
The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and must negotiate the marriage of one of them. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.
So this was a rating that I really struggled with. I feel like Roxane Gay is a wonderful writer who can do absolutely no wrong. Anytime I read something by her, I automatically want to read more and more from her. Seriously though, I google her to see what blog posts she’s written that I haven’t read yet. In other words, I will read her grocery list and be totally satisfied with it. On the other hand, this was a bit of a it’s me, not you situation. A lot of the times I picked it up, I wasn’t really in the mood to read these stories. A lot of Gay’s fiction stories are pretty dark and can be hard to get through. I think that you have to be the kind of person who doesn’t mind reading difficult subject matter. The writing is absolutely beautiful, but some of the content was hard for me to personally push through.
I’m so conflicted with this rating because I think it’s good to be made uncomfortable from stories. I don’t think that all stories should be these happy tales filled with perfect people. Roxane Gay is so fascinating because she takes broken people and displays it in such a real and heartbreaking way. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, she gives us the raw truth. I applaud her for doing this in such an unfiltered fashion. She’s a remarkable writer, that’s something that no one can deny.
Some of the stories completely punched me in the gut. Some of them sucked me in and made me want far more pages than what we had. Some of the other stories seemed to drag on a bit and I wasn’t sure where the story was going. A couple of the stories had such horrific events going on one after the other that I was just ready for something good to happen to the characters. But like I mentioned earlier, not all things are happy, and a lot of terrible things do happen so I’m glad that Gay isn’t afraid to include these things. I also feel like sometimes there’s a limit of how much darkness you want to read. That being said, I think you need to be well prepared for a dark book and I really wasn’t at that time so it was hard to push through. Some of my personal favorite stories were I Will Follow You, The Mark of Cain, Break All The Way Down, Best Features, The Sacrifice of Darkness, and Strange Gods.
In the end, I decided to give Difficult Women four stars. I enjoyed more stories than I disliked. There was only about three stories that I didn’t really relate to or understand. Though this is a heavy book filled with some dark subject matter like sexual violence, kidnapping, miscarriages, death, and gang rape, it’s also a beautifully written book. It took me awhile to read it, but I’m still glad that I stuck it out until the very end. Gay isn’t capable of writing a bad book and this was no exception. I can’t wait for Hunger to come out later this year.