[Review] Difficult Women - Roxane Gay

Title of Book: Difficult Women
Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Grove Press
Publication Year: 2017
Language: English
Format: ARC
Pages: 272

Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State and the 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 elder sister's marriage. 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.

Thanks to the publisher for providing me a copy of this ARC via Netgalley.
Difficult Women is a short story collection by Roxane Gay, a feminist writer known for her essay collection Bad Feminist. This is a new release in 2017 and I should have finished reading it in 2016 but I couldn’t. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, because I did. It’s just because this is a short story collection, so it’s easy to read one story, put it down, then read another one when I feel like it.

Difficult Women consists of 21 various short stories. Some of them only have two to three pages like Open Marriage and A Pat, and some of them are not. Most of the stories in this collection revolve around women and their struggles. Some have women of color as the main character. Based on what I read, it seems like the stories in this collection have the recurring themes of sexual abuse, racial issue, and child loss. Some of the stories have graphic sexual and violent content though, so this collection, in my opinion, is more suitable for mature readers. Also, trigger warning for sexual abuse.

The story which becomes the title of this collection is one of my favorites. Basically, the story is written like an article, in which Gay describes certain types of women that often perceived by society as ‘difficult women’. For example, she wrote about crazy women. Then she gave narratives on several traits that crazy women have. What I love about Difficult Women is how instead of showing how difficult a woman can be; it shows that it is difficult being a woman. It is common in society to give labels to women that have certain behavior. A woman could be a perfectionist and people would label her as demanding or high maintenance. Maybe, she’s a perfectionist because she’s expected to be a perfectionist. That’s just one example and I’m not sure if it’s a good one. My point is, this is one short story that I recommend to read.

Another interesting short story that’s in this collection is Noble Things. I personally think that this is the most interesting one after Difficult Women because it touches on the most recent issue. Noble Things sets after the United States presidential election. In this short story, Gay imagined what would happen after the President-elect finally becomes the President and people don't respond well to it. She wrote that there would be chaos and war and the country would be split. Some states would form new countries, some would join another country. But what makes this story touching is because it focuses on one particular family and how the situation impacts this family.

I must say I’m impressed by this collection. Sometimes in a short story collection, there are some stories that I enjoy and some that I don’t care and easily forget. With Difficult Women, I enjoy reading every single short story. True, I like some more than others. But still, I didn’t skip any of the stories. Moreover, Gay doesn’t shy away in her writing. She uses vulgar words when it’s necessary, sometimes poetic in the right proportions, I like it. The main characters in her stories are not perfect. They’re flawed, but they aren’t flawed without a cause. It’s a bit tough to read, since they seem like punishing themselves in the stories. But it’s touching when they finally overcome their issues. Difficult Women is a solid five out of five. I highly recommend this short story collection.

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