Book Review: Difficult Women

Author: Roxane Gay

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

ISBN: 9781472152787

Genre: Fiction


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Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women deserves all the hype it gets. This collection of stories is compelling told and beautifully written, and follow the lives of several women dealing with the many and varied aspects of womanhood—motherhood, sexual assault, expectations of wellness. Gay tells stories of women who are “difficult”: broken, frigid, made of glass, rich, mixed-race, loud, demanding. She portrays these women as complex, whole ass human beings who still deserve respect by nature of their humanity, whether or not they fit the mold of womanhood. The stories will make you run the gamut of your feelings: you will start with joy, become sad, feel intense anger, then compassion, and relate to women who you find rub you the wrong way. My favorite stories were about women haunted by storms and water damage, sisters who never leave each other, and twins who switched their women. I kept telling myself “one more story then I go to bed,” but 6 stories later, I couldn’t put down the damn book. Roxane Gay did that.

But having read most of her writing, some of her plot points felt too familiar. Gay’s female protagonists are strong-willed, stubborn, and they syphon strength from their weaknesses. But during this collection of stories, it felt like each character was a reflection or refraction of another. That is, the difficult women seemed difficult in similar ways. For example, as in Untamed State, the broken woman, when not getting or feeling like she doesn’t deserve the love of her “good man” goes out and finds “the roughest man,” usually at a bar, to fuck her (up), so to speak, because “that’s what [she] deserves.” What about the difficult women who don’t know that they’re difficult? What about the ones who aren’t lucky to find an un-really patient man? What about the women who managed to see through a pregnancy and keep the child but have difficult relationships as the child grows? Not saying Roxane Gay has to “account for” every single woman who ever existed (that’s also not possible), but even this diversity seems of a type.

Despite this, I’m in love with this collection of stories for the style of writing and the stories themselves. I will probably end up reading this book several times over.