Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women (2017) is a collection of short stories portraying – as per its title – women who are supposedly difficult. The stories explore a variety of different topics, looking at super-connected twins, northern Michigan towns, female fight clubs, and women literally made of glass. The unusual becomes the norm as you make your way through the different stories, and you eventually rediscover what you already know – that that’s really the way things should be. There is no such thing as normal – only what’s superficially easy and what’s complex but real.
I personally love Roxane Gay’s writing because she’s brutally honest with her work while still staying completely human. The superiority and disdain for other women that’s present in a lot of feminist literature is nowhere to be found. Her women are “difficult,” but they’re beautifully layered and human and invite you to feel along with them. Not one woman is presented as any better than any of the others. Strippers, grad students, bereaved housewives, sexual assault victims, and mothers of dead babies all stand beside one another in dignity and in strength and show that the world is what makes them “difficult.”
The collection is gut-wrenching to read but is so, so valuable. I see Gay getting a lot of criticism on twitter for treating men “unfairly,” especially in this book, and that’s even more eye roll-worthy now that I’ve read it. There are a lot of awful men in the different stories, but they also put forth some of the tenderest and most understanding men I’ve encountered in literature. Pick up “Break All the Way Down” (my favorite in the collection) and you’ll see what I mean. Gay treats humanity with breathtaking honesty and awareness, and the literary world is richer for having her work in it.
I highly recommend the collection to anyone who cares about our contemporary world and will say it’s required reading for any modern feminist. I will however warn that rape, miscarriage, stillbirth, baby death, domestic violence, and child molestation all make shocking appearances. It is not by any means a comfortable read, but it is a valuable one.
I give it 4.5/5 stars.