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Difficult Women

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A national bestseller from the "prolific and exceptionally insightful" (Globe and Mail) Roxane Gay, Difficult Women is a collection of stories of rare force that paints a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America.

Difficult Women tells 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 have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children, and, grown now, 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 gives voice to a chorus of unforgettable women in a scintillating collection reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Anne Enright, and Miranda July.

306 pages, Paperback

First published January 3, 2017

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About the author

Roxane Gay

118 books157k followers
Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,489 reviews
Profile Image for Debbie.
441 reviews2,794 followers
February 10, 2017

Difficult Women could have easily been titled Sad Women or Sad Women Having Sex. No, no, no, not every woman is sad, and not every single story is about sex, but that’s the impression it left me. Don’t fret—it’s not too graphic and it’s not porn, it’s just there.

I’d love to hear why Gay titled the book Difficult Women. When I think of difficult women, I think of women who are generally a pain, who are sassy, who rock the boat. But here, these women have had their boats rocked. They have difficulties, but they aren’t difficult. And even though many of the characters are broken, there is not a “poor me” victim-y feel at all.

Sexual abuse, abduction, fatness, mothers who lose children, and women who want rough sex are some of the themes. Here is a list of words that come to mind when I think of this collection: pain, loss, grief, guilt, loneliness, fear, isolation, sadness, emptiness, and violence.

But now that I’ve made this sound like a total downer, let me say that I just loved this book. Most of the stories got under my skin. The stories about assault and those about motherhood touched me the most. A couple of stories, including the title story, “Difficult Women,” just seemed too damn short and choppy. There were a couple of stories where women liked being physically hurt by men, and those were hard to read or understand.

One thing I love about these stories is that there is no small talk; it’s some of the most honest dialogue I've heard. In fact, nothing is fake. Gay shows us little moments that we normally would not notice or wouldn’t get to see, like when a couple watches and discusses a documentary about overweight people.

There are three stories that seemed out of place, both in terms of tone and theme—in fact, I never would have recognized them as being written by Gay. One was an allegory and one was sci-fi, and I didn’t have much of a reaction to either of them. For me, they didn’t have the pull that her other works do.

However, the third out-of-place story, which was futuristic, completely blew my mind. It was about the United States being divided into territories, republics, and combined states. I am not kidding: I read this one on the evening of the election that shook America, soon after the new president was announced. How totally bizarre that Gay would even write a story like this, and that that would be the story staring at me when I opened my Kindle that night to read! Here is the first line. Weird and scary or what?!

“After the second secession of the South, and the rise in tensions that led to the New Civil War, Parker Coles Johnson VI was a changed man.”

Roxane Gay’s writing is phenomenal. She makes you feel the emotions of her characters, who seem to have an uncanny depth to them, even when there isn’t a lot of drama or dialogue. The stories are often visceral, intense, disturbing, and sometimes sensual. It’s hard not to just keep adding adjectives. The stories are mostly dark, but they are also unique and intriguing and heartfelt. This is what I call an emotional read.

Gay experienced a violent sexual assault when she was younger, and I’m guessing that the last story, which is very upsetting, is somewhat autobiographical. I’m sure some of her other stories have been molded by her tough past as well.

Gay’s An Untamed State is one of my favorite books. This collection is nowhere near as powerful, but I liked it a whole lot. I never want to reread a book (there are just too many books calling me), but I absolutely wanted to start all over as soon as I read the last word.

Most, if not all, of these stories have appeared in major literary publications, which means we already know they’re polished and beauteous. Gay has an upcoming book of essays called Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. I’m standing in line, I guarantee you.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews35 followers
October 1, 2016
Anyone who does not know who *Roxane Gay* has been living under a rock for too long! She's a phenomenal talented inspiring woman.
Roxanne has brought tears to my eyes more than once. She's a feminist who turned to books as a child when her family moved several times and struggled to make friends. She began writing essays as a teenager-- and her work today is greatly influenced by a sexual assault she experienced at age 12.
From the first time -last June - when I had the honor to hear her speak - tears flowing down my face - this woman has been my hero!!!!

If you don't know who she is - you MUST - at LEAST listen to a few of her YouTubes on the Internet. Her novel "An Untamed State", has just been made into a movie-- and she IS especially known for her memoir 'Bad Feminist'.

I listened to her speak not long ago about another book- another memoir- called "Hunger", a very personal book about 'her body'....for which I was sooo over-the-top
moved --I've can't wait to read it. I simply love - love this woman!!!

The first story in "Difficult Women", called "I Will Follow You", brought me to tears by the end! It's so sad ---FRICKIN FUCKIN HEARTBREAKING -- and POWERFUL....I 'had' to take a break before reading the next story. But then.....I read it again!!!
It's about two sisters ( adults) ... one is married -the other is not. When they were children they were abducted.
I've only two things I want to say about this story:
1. READ IT.....( thank you Roxane for your all you give)

All the stories are about women: loose women, frigid women, misunderstood women,
married women, --one story is about a woman married to a man with a twin brother- and for good reasons she refers to them, ( to herself), as her two husbands --women as mothers and daughters, single women with or without boyfriends, rich and poor, pregnant, strong women, weak women, how different women love, compete, complain and express themselves, think, cook, clean, dress, pray, listen, date, shiver, sob openly, care for a baby, sacrifice, inhale deeply, scream, have sex, avoid sex, grieve, smoke, drink, flirt, educated themselves, beautify themselves, protect themselves, or not, mourn with dignity, smile, talk to strangers, eat, sleep, giving birth, exercise, grow older, noble things, experience joy, and kick ass!

Highly Recommended!!!

Thank You Grove Atlantic, Netgalley, and Roxane Gay!!!!

Profile Image for Deanna .
665 reviews12.4k followers
October 19, 2016
4.5 Stars!

My reviews can also be seen at: https://deesradreadsandreviews.wordpr...

Roxane Gay is one talented writer. I'm not usually one for short-stories but I really enjoyed this collection. Many of the stories first appeared in publications such as Best American Mystery Stories, American Short Fiction, The Minnesota Review, Best American Short Stories and many others.

"a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection."

The stories feature women from many different backgrounds. Lives of privilege, poverty, and everywhere in between. Young and old. Married, in a relationship, or single. These women are all haunted by something or someone. Many have suffered severe and traumatic experiences and all of the stories are told with a raw and brutal honesty. These are not your "typical" love stories but there is still love in its many different forms.

I definitely preferred some stories more than others but found something in many of them that I could relate to or sympathize with. Many of the stories had similar themes ( violence, love, hate, sex, guilt, trauma, loss, motherhood, race, relationships, and abuse) but all of the women had their own distinct voice. I found myself becoming quite emotional while reading these stories, and more than a few brought me to tears.

There are many more stories that I'll not soon forget. However, the following are the ones that will definitely remain with me for a very long time:

I Will Follow You - This is the very first story and it broke my heart into about a million pieces. A story about two sisters who are now adults but who were both abducted as children.

The Mark of Cain - About a woman married to a man with an identical twin. The twins like to switch places sometimes, they think she doesn't know....they are wrong.

Difficult Women - The story from which the title stems. A story about loose women, frigid women, crazy women, mothers, and dead girls.

Break All the Way Down - I was in tears throughout this entire story.

"Every time that man sank his fists into my body, I could breathe a little. I used one hurt to cover another"

Open Marriage - Can yogurt expire?

Best Features - Oh my did this one make me angry.

"I don't normally go for girls like you but big girls try harder"

Overall, this was such a great collection of stories about women whose lives are truly difficult. However, many of these "Difficult Women" also have a tremendous amount of strength, endurance, and even hope.

Thank you to NetGalley, Grove Press and Roxane Gay for an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for emma.
1,823 reviews48.7k followers
June 29, 2021
my becoming-a-genius project, part 12.5!

here is the accursed lowdown:
i have decided to become a genius.

to accomplish this, i'm going to work my way through the collected stories of various authors, reading + reviewing 1 story every day (in this case 2 a day - i'm allowed to break the rule because i made them) until i get bored / lose every single follower / am struck down by a vengeful deity.

this is 12.5 (and not 13) because this project is allegedly one in which i read the COLLECTED STORIES of authors, not one collection. so i'm reading back to back roxane gay, baby. completionist as hell.


i am embarrassed to admit i didn't really look into this book (i go into almost everything blind - more fun that way) and did not realize that this was a collection of short stories, not a collection of essays.
this is a pleasant surprise.
this story is very horrible in a way that is not...believable? this doesn't feel real, like real things that happened to real people. the "after" feels true but not the "before" or the "during."
the writing, though. wonderful.
rating: 3.5

i mean...okay.
rating: 3

guessing from the title alone this will be some fun, light reading.
i, like...respect this story, i think? but i wonder if i will ever find one where the characters and their lives feel real to me.
maybe a bit doom and gloom - this is only the third one.
rating: 3.5

weird placement for the title story but OK!
this one didn't have characters or a story really and i finally really liked it.
rating: 4.5

hurray for another story without lasting characters or a narrative!
rating: 3.75

this was very horrible to read. good but very horrible.
rating: 4

all right. i am deeply hungover (spent last night wine drunk doing the following: watching a years-old super bowl; tweeting to bands like they're my friends; adding people on linkedin with overly familiar messages; questioning my sexuality) and i'm ready to rumble. also i might order domino's but that's up in the air.
this was so weird but in a good way. i'm surprised roxane gay didn't like ottessa moshfegh's short story collection more.
rating: 4.5

drinking a Strawberry Parfait Breakfast Smoothie i forgot i bought. it's terrible. and so we beat on, boats against the current. sorry i'm treating this like a diary today.
oh jesus this was way too nice. what the hell. why was this so nice. damn it roxane i can't deal with yearning today!
rating: 4.5

ultimately i did order domino's yesterday, for anyone who is invested.
i admire how much roxane gay is interested in both michigan and toxically close sister relationships.
anyway i like this one.
rating: 4

this was like...okay, this was like watching a critically acclaimed movie where you can sit there and be like "i understand that this is well done, even as it is not enjoyable for me to watch and is making me feel nothing."
rating: 3

i like this 50% more than i would have with a different title. it's a good title.
rating: 3.75

again! another one with no realness to it! it's so frustrating to me because i don't even know how to explain it in a way that will make sense.
rating: 2.75

really hoping this is the Fleabag kind of bad priest and not the Spotlight kind. although those are both in my top 10 favorite pieces of media.
okay more the Fleabag kind thankfully but definitely not as hot.
rating: 3

this is a one pager and a fun change of pace, especially considering my most common criticism of these stories.
rating: 3.75

does anyone else remember that very short-lived TV show "The Slap"? easy winner for most unhinged trailer.
anyway this title reminds me of that. obviously.
i am obsessed with this story. it's f*cking brilliant. i don't even want to explain it, i just want everyone to read it. i guess i'll say this proves masterfully how little our pity for others has to do with them, and it does it in like 2 pages.
rating: 5

this one reminds me of the recent response to people who say things like 'dating is unpaid sex work': you don't have to date people you don't like.
i guess the point of this story is that the protagonist feels like she has to, but i don't know. i just can't get into most of these characters.
another good title though.
rating: 2.75

i really often dislike marriage stories, as a 23 year old who is still able to believe she's immune to it.
the ending of this was pretty hit-you-over-the-head, to steal an -ism of my senior year english teacher's.
rating: 2.5

sheesh. no thank you.
rating: 2.25

lamer title than usual but okay.
yeah i just didn't really like this one. not sure why.
rating: 2

ditto for this one. maybe i'm just a grump.
rating: 2

this one is...mostly true? it's a lot to consider where the lines between reality and fiction intersect here. but i guess that's always true of stories.
anyway. brutal and brilliant, this one.
rating: 4

gah these stories are not easy.
rating: 3.75

so weird that some of these stories are impossible to feel anything about, and then some (like this one) appear so effortlessly provoking and immersive that i feel like i made the other ones up.
rating: 4

i get it and i don't.
rating: 3.75

this varied in quality like crazy for me!!! don't know what to do! don't know what to say! but i respect the stories even if i don't always like them so 3.5 it shall be!!!
rating: 3.5


reading all books with LGBTQ+ rep for pride this month!

book 1: the gravity of us
book 2: the great american whatever
book 3: wild beauty
book 4: the affair of the mysterious letter
book 5: how we fight for our lives
book 6: blue lily, lily blue
book 7: the times i knew i was gay
book 8: conventionally yours
book 9: the hollow inside
book 10: nimona
book 11: dark and deepest red
book 12: the house in the cerulean sea
book 13: the raven king
book 14: violet ghosts
book 15: as far as you'll take me
book 16: bad feminist
book 17: a song for a new day
book 18: one last stop
book 19: to break a covenant
book 20: honey girl
book 21: check, please!
book 22: the subtweet
book 23: if we were villains
book 24: everything leads to you
book 25: you have a match
book 26: ziggy, stardust, and me
book 27: all the invisible things
book 28: heartstopper
book 29: boyfriend material
book 30: extraordinary birds
book 31: every body shines
book 32: you know me well
book 33: difficult women
Profile Image for Brina.
904 reviews4 followers
July 14, 2017
Yesterday Goodreads ran a question and answer session with author Roxane Gay in anticipation of the release of her memoir Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. I felt that Gay delivered poignant responses as she voiced what it means for her to be a feminist as we move forward through the 21st century. Next month, a group I belong to, Literary Fiction by People of Color, has selected Gay's Difficult Women as its monthly read. With Gay being a popular author as she continues to churn out novels and story collections, I took advantage of my library having a copy of the book in advance of next month's read.

Difficult Women contains 21 short stories of varying lengths and is indeed difficult to get through, especially for readers unaccustomed to dealing with domestic and sexual violence against women. The collection opens with an extremely brutal story I Will Follow, which speaks of sisters who are survivors of rape and molestation at the hands of a middle aged man. His memory follows them for their entire lives as they can not bare to live their lives apart, in fear that he will find them should they ever choose to separate. Each story features instances of brutality and abuse to various degrees, whether physical, verbal, or racial discrimination. As I read through these stories, I kept being overcome with pain and despair, as I couldn't bare for the women featured in these pages to endure the hurt and hatred that they faced. Yet, I kept reading because of Gay's powerful words.

Other stories from this collection stood out. FLORIDA features the perspectives of various people living in a gated community and the trailer park abutting it in Naples. It almost seemed as though the couples in the lower economic bracket enjoyed happier lives than those with excess money, which ended up leading to spouses cheating on each other, often times in brutal ways. North Country involves an African American engineering professor who has moved from Florida to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and has to endure both the endless winter and lewd stares of her colleagues as she is the only female member of her department. While this story is not nearly as violent as some of the others in the collection, it does speak about discrimination against women in few areas of society still closed to them. Finally, Break All the Way Down speaks of a young couple who saw their one year old son killed in a car accident and the ways both of them coped through the tragedy. This and the other stories that saw the death of children were the hardest for me to get through.

The last three stories in the collection offered a glimmer of hope amidst the violence. Both The Sacrifice of Darkness and Noble Things speak of a dystopia about what could happen if society is completely devoid of love. Dystopian books are usually a genre that I avoid; however, because these two stories were the least brutal in the collection, I actually found myself enjoying them. Noble Things is especially poignant because it discusses what could happen if society breaks down completely, causing a Second Civil War. Regardless of one's politics, Gay's writing here gets her readers to think throughout the story, leaving mixed feelings of fear and hope. The last story in the collection, Strange Gods, while not as uplifting as the previous two, merges all of its themes- brutality, sexual violence, distrust of good men because of past of events. It leaves the reader with lingering feelings of both hope and relief that the brutality featured in this collection is finally over.

Roxane Gay can write. She says in her Goodreads interview that because she is both single and an insomniac that she has all the time in the world to write. She is also a survivor of childhood rape, and that subject surfaces many times in this collection. The writing in Difficult Women is powerful and looks into the souls of the many fictional women depicted in these pages. Yet, the subject matter is raw and tough to deal with, and is not a book that one can read in one sitting. At a point, it was though all the stories were about violence and for a time I thought about putting it aside, yet I finished because I was able to look past the subject matter to the excellent writing. Perhaps, Roxane Gay's essays dealing specifically with feminism will be easier for me to grasp. Difficult Women is a difficult read, one that shows that unfortunately violence against women still exists in many forms, and one I rate 4 stars for writing and 2 for subject matter, for 3 stars overall.
Profile Image for Hannah.
592 reviews1,052 followers
January 3, 2017
This. This is the reason why I started reading more short story collections. I knew there must be brilliant books that I would miss otherwise. This collection is absolutely incredible and it might very well end up being my favourite book of 2016 (and I read some really great books this year).

There is not a single bad story in this collection and some were among the best things I have ever read. The collection is aptly named "Difficult Women" - women and their experiences are at the centre of this book and while the protagonists were often indeed 'difficult' and imperfect, I still felt for every single on of them. Their sometimes flawed decisions made my heart hurt and I just wanted them to be happy (or at least happier). Many stories deal with dark themes and horrific things have happened to these women. But while many short story collections I have read recently deal with the sad things happening in the present and the bleak future ahead, Roxane Gay goes another way. Mostly, the bad stuff happened in the past and the women are dealing with it in the present; each in their own unique, sometimes self-destructive ways. And this leads to the biggest strength of this altogether brilliant collection: there is a sense of hope in these stories, of a future worth living, of strength, and of human connection.

I was torn between reading it without a break and savouring it; in the end I couldn't stop myself and read one story after the other. I will definitely have to buy a hard copy of this book and then read the stories again, slowly this time.

I received an arc curtesy of NetGalley and Grove Atlantic in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,484 reviews29.4k followers
January 7, 2017
I'd give this 4.5 stars.

This is a crazy-good collection, filled with stories that are sometimes quirky, sometimes moving, sometimes ribald, sometimes funny, but nearly always utterly compelling. There are 21 stories in this collection—some last little more than a page, while some are much longer, but there is a real power in Roxane Gay's storytelling, whether the stories have an almost frenzied pace or proceed in a slower, more contemplative fashion.

While the title of this collection is Difficult Women , I don't think you could classify all of the main characters as difficult. Passionate, complex, unique, fascinating (in both good and bad ways), yes, but in my opinion, the word "difficult" connotes a negative quality that not all of these women have. Some of the characters are in the flush of love or suffering the pain of loss; some are motivated primarily by the need for sexual conquest, fulfillment, even degradation, while others want tenderness and companionship, if anything. Some are fiercely protective of others around them, while some are steadfastly selfish; some are wounded by the world around them, while others are ready to give as good as they get.

I enjoyed nearly every story in this collection, but my favorites included: "North Country," about an African-American engineer who takes a job in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and has to fend off the curiosity and advances of many of her colleagues, while coming to terms with her own secrets; "The Mark of Cain," which tells of a married woman whose husband has an identical twin brother, and she pretends not to notice when the brothers switch places; and "Break All the Way Down," a moving story about a woman numbed by extreme grief, who uses infidelity and rough sex to feel something again, and whose life is turned upside down by a late-night visitor.

Other favorites included "I Will Follow You," which focuses on two sisters who were abducted as children and are inseparable as adults, even though one is married; "How," about twin sisters each rooted in their own unhappiness, desperate to escape what is holding them back from what they crave; "La Negra Blanca," which focuses on a young stripper working to pay for college, who must face the demands of an entitled customer; and "The Sacrifice of Darkness," a story with a fairytale-like feel, about a couple living in a world of darkness and the curse they must bear.

I have never read anything Gay has written, so I was really blown away, by her use of language and imagery, the sexual frankness of many of her characters, and the richness of her characters. There's probably a story for everyone in this collection, although all of the stories might not appeal. (For those of you squeamish about descriptions of harm coming to animals, there are a few stories which go into graphic detail about hunting and other things.)

Difficult Women is a unique, powerful, well-told collection that will stay in my head for a long time. If you're a fan of short stories featuring women with a mind of their own, pick this one up.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo..., and see my list of the best books I read in 2016 at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2017/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2016.html.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,964 reviews294k followers
December 5, 2016
A stunning collection of hard-hitting, discomfiting stories about women. In all their forms.

Many of the stories here pack a severe emotional punch, or challenge you to think, or disgust you. But what is evident throughout is that Gay is an amazing writer. For someone like me who generally prefers characters, plot, atmosphere and most things over the words themselves, it was astounding to be so floored by the author's command of language. She wields sentences as weapons and uses them to break your heart.

Or screw with your mind.

Or both.

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Profile Image for Nat.
555 reviews3,181 followers
August 2, 2018
Anything with Roxane Gay’s name on it is guaranteed to pique my interest.

Difficult Women is a collection of short stories that cover a wide range of modern women, from a woman pretending not to realize when her husband switches places with his twin brother to a stripper putting herself through college and fending off an obsessed customer.

And a number of the stories had me just floored by the raw emotion and chilling writing.

Here are a few of my favorites pieces:

I Will Follow You:

A fantastic opening to this collection. It follows two close sisters that don’t like to separate their ways. Where Carolina went, her sister followed.

“My sister was the only place that made any sense.”

We find out that the reason why they’re always together is that when the narrator was ten and her sister eleven they were abducted together for six weeks—the kidnapper later dumped them at a hospital near home.

“We were young once and then we weren’t.”

Reading this short story was an overwhelming emotional experience. The flashbacks to Mr. Peter - the kidnapper - was one of the scariest things I could read before going to bed. I had chills for hours after. Just typing in his name makes my stomach twist and my throat contract anew.

“Our parents asked Carolina why she jumped into the van instead of running for help. She said, “I couldn’t leave my sister alone.”

I needed a breather.

North Country:

A black engineer - Kate - moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind.

Along the way, she meets plainspoken and honest Magnus and the rest is history.

“I remember the pressure of Magnus’s lips against mine, their texture and the smell of his bedsheets. I am in trouble.”

Literally me when I catch feelings…

I don't know how Roxane Gay does it, but in a short amount of pages she managed to bring their relationship fully to life and also made me kind of fall for Magnus... he still seems to good to be true. Damn.

“I have a weakness for charming men who make witty comebacks.”

Plus, I really appreciated that Gay took the time to address both sexism and racism in the workplace.

Break All the Way Down:

This follows Natasha's journey of mourning and grieving her baby boy, who was run over by a car right in front of her and her husband's eyes.

The way Gay described that horrible moment made everything around me stop for a second.

“Ben and I screamed. Ben Jr. stopped and turned to look at us, was so startled by the pitch of our voices, he cried. The last thing my child did was cry because he was scared. He held his arms higher, the way he does, the way he did, when he wanted to be held. The curves between my thumbs and forefingers throbbed violently.
When the car ran him over, I did not look away. I saw what happened to my boy’s body. I saw everything, all of him, everywhere.”

Natasha way of grieving is to punish herself for not stopping the accident. Her kind but strong husband is patient and eventually tells her that she can’t keep going like this.

“Enough,” he said. “You’ve broken yourself enough. You’re coming home.”

It was such a raw and hauntingly powerful story on dealing with grief and forgiveness. I know for a fact that it's going to stick in my mind for a very long time.

The Sacrifice of Darkness:

“Pretty isn’t always about what you see. Sometimes pretty is what you feel.”

A beautiful tale on living without light and making the most of a lifetime of darkness. When the narrator was a little girl her husband's father flew an air machine into the sun. “Since then, the days have been dark, the nights bright.”

I sincerely love how we followed the two main characters from childhood to adulthood and then parenthood together. Such great characterization and I love their love.

“He told me he didn’t mind the silence of others so long as I was there to fill it.”

Roxane Gay has an incredible talent for writing fleshed-out relationships.
I cannot wait for Difficult Women to come out in January of 2017 so more people can read and revel at how utterly dark and fascinating and completely gripping this collection was. It was at times a difficult read but, without the merest hint of a shadow of a doubt, worthwhile.

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

4/5 stars

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Profile Image for Monita Mohan.
730 reviews13 followers
February 9, 2017
True confession - I haven't read any Roxane Gay, but I have heard a lot about her work. It's not like I've avoided her writing, just haven't had access to it. So when Netgalley had her latest collection 'Difficult Women' up for grabs, I grabbed with both hands.

Admittedly, between reading the blurb of the book and reading the actual book, several months went by, so the first of the stories was not what I expected, and neither were the rest. The collection didn't quite fit the book's title of Difficult Women, nor did it comply with the dedication at the start asking said difficult women to celebrate their nature.

When I picked up this book, I expected to be faced with a bunch of normal women whose very normality would, and is, considered 'difficult' by society. I was looking forward to reading about unconventional women, funny women, blase women, happy women, women comfortable with their non-Hollywood shape, colour, orientation, tastes and hobbies, women who love power, women who hate it, women who don't want families, women who aren't considered 'women' (because society), women who love being themselves; in other words, I was looking forward to reading about real people, with relatable stories.

What we get however is the female version of All That Man Is - a collection of disjointed stories which centre around female characters and ALL of these stories are focused on sex. Like, I mean, ALL OF THEM! There's not a single story about a woman who's had a bad day at her stupid corporate job; none where she's having an existential crisis because life sucks; none where she's healthily coping with depression, or not so healthily; none where's she's transgender; none where they're genderqueer/ genderfluid... It's a long line of skinny, conventionally-shaped women suffering through bad relationships/ stuck in the sex industry/ dealing with bad sex/ have sucky husbands who don't care what they want/ fat-shaming other women/ not having a ruddy spine to do something about their lives. The stories end abruptly, with no closure, no growth, no reason for being.

The bright sparks are the ones where the author engages with difficult subjects, but none of these moments justify the book's title. These aren't difficult women - they're women who have gone, or go through difficult situations. Most of them are exactly the kind of women we are used to seeing and reading in art, books and on screen. The title is a misnomer, a red herring and the stories are an insult to regular women's stories. We are bombarded by a series of cliches and cliched characters and cliched situations. Maybe when each of these stories first appeared they were novel and revolutionary, but the collection embodies none of that novelty today. One can't identify with any of the characters; some of their circumstances maybe, but their actions? Nope, not one bit.

The one thing that I found pleasantly surprising was the celebration of sibling relationships. There are at least three stories with twins, and other stories also emphasise the bond between siblings. Were these celebrations included in better, more grounded stories I would probably have championed them; but they are not.

This was an uncorrected proof, so chances are things may change and the stories may get swapped around. I did find that stories similar in theme were sequentially placed which makes the reader bored. But when the majority of the stories have the same stock characters: perfectly-shaped (because, of course) browbeaten/put upon/cheated on wife/sex worker who can't or won't leave her bad situation + realistically out-of-shape (because, of course) cheating/violent husband/male authority figure, no amount of swapping places is going to dull the fatigue.

I Will Follow You - the first of the stories, isn't about difficult women, it's about two young sisters who've gone through hell and have come out of it still holding onto their relationship with each other. It's quite beautiful when it's concentrating on how much these two girls support each other, but it doesn't tackle the central issue head on, which is at once a relief and a let down.

Water, All Its Weight - I didn't get it. There's a water metaphor that continues through the story but it makes no sense. It's a more hopeful story, and mercifully short, but it's allegorical attempts seem to have failed.

The Mark of Cain - A story featuring twins. Twin men who definitely love each other greatly, but constantly attempt 'The Prestige'-esque switcheroo acts in their daily lives. It's a weird story that would have been readable if the central female protagonist wasn't so feeble.

Difficult Women - A commentary on different categories women are placed into, but again, these are not women in charge of their lives and bodies and thoughts. They are part of the system and don't seem to get out of it.

Florida - Mostly forgettable, though I didn't mind the character of Marcy, whose husband has been transferred to Florida and she's trying to fit into this weird world. The ending of Marcy's segment was one of the more relatable and real ones in the entire book.

The others however are cardboard cutouts of every cliche in the universe. The fat-shaming in the middle is gross and really put me off. I don't get why Gay didn't try and write a commentary on people's poor sizism attitudes. It's really off-putting.

La Negra Blanca - Story of a stripper trying to make it through college and a dude who is gross. Really daft and unoriginal in 2016 - maybe it was novelty when it was first published, but jeez, what tedious stuff.

Baby Arm - Another one I didn't understand. Something about mannequins and fibreglass body parts. Just... didn't understand the whole point of it.

North Country - I'm struggling to remember what this one was even about. It's a continuing theme of a perfect woman who is highly sought after, she's been wronged/ is wronged by some ghastly looking bloke. That's all I recall.

How - Also set in the North Country, this one also features twins. And an LGBT love story, of sorts. It's a bit similar to Eileen, less dark, and less gross, but just as annoying.

Requiem for a Glass Heart - Another one of those allegorical ones which is basically about a man cheating on his wife. Pretty much all the stories feature such a man.

In the Event of My Father's Death - Another story of a horrible man, his daughter suffering through his horribleness, his wife putting up with his adultery and a shoehorned lesbian storyline because why not!

Break All the Way Down - What's essentially a good premise about the loss of a child is shrouded by the protagonist's crazy behaviour. People do strange things when depressed or in pain, but this story just... I think I'm just being harsh, but honestly this story's protagonist just didn't make sense to me.

Bad Priest - Title sums it up; nothing more than a salacious love affair sensationalised for no particular reason.

Open Marriage - Short, concise and pithy. It's says what's on the tin and it's kinda good.

A Pat - Kind of weird as the protagonist takes her mother's advice about being nice to the disenfranchised to a whole new weird level. Say what?

Best Features - It's about a fat woman and the story isn't very nice to her. I thought much of the first paragraph was quite apt, but it was ruined by the rest of the story. *Ugly cries*

Bone Density - More cheating husbands. It was really beginning to get on my nerves by this point. There's even a point where the protagonist decries what a cliche she lives in - it's like the author is trying to say something to us.

I Am a Knife - I did not get this. I understood the general gist of the story but not the refrain about being a knife or a gun. Some of the events are fantastical but I don't know what or if they allude to anything real. So weird.

The Sacrifice of Darkness - Another fantastical story which would have made for an interesting read but I think I was so fatigued by the stories before I couldn't care about it. There are some allusions to real world economics and power politics and it's not the worst story but just a bit lost in the miasma before and after it.

Noble Things - I sleep-read this and I feel guilty for doing that. It's really unfair to the story but it didn't interest me at all so I skimmed a little too quickly to form an opinion of it.

Strange Gods - Completes the cycle of a hard-hitting story where a very real horror strikes our protagonist. You finish the story wondering why the hell everyone involved didn't tackle the situation differently, but that's real life. I do wish the author had not padded up the story with a lot of other junk, it could have stood on its own just with the one horrifying incident, remembered in hindsight from a better place.

I think that the overwhelming negativity in this book doesn't help any cause. And the fact that the title refers to these women, all of whom are grave sufferers of their circumstances, as Difficult, is unjust to not only those who suffer because of their circumstances but also to people who are considered difficult because they don't fit the bill. There also isn't much variety in the women characters in the book (as mentioned, nearly all the central female characters are Hollywood ideals, while the men are just normally shaped, or out-of-shape), a surprising fact as I'm sure the author often confronts intersectional feminism in her work. I don't mean that some of the characters aren't of different races, I mean that they aren't required to confront their race because their other attributes trump that aspect in these stories.

I was really disappointed in this collection. It's certainly not worth a read, not in one go anyway. It's too samey and tedious. The cliches are grating. The topic of Difficult Women deserves better.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,340 followers
December 3, 2016
3.5 stars. Ouch... Maybe it's the mood I'm in, but at times Difficult Women felt almost too harsh and painful for me to keep reading -- I had to temper its effects by breaking up my reading with a few chapters from a book about the Berlin Wall of all things. Difficult Women is a collection of short stories. Some are very short -- vignettes really -- and others are longer. Some flirt with surrealism, but most are anchored in a very dark reality. They almost all focus on women in nasty situations -- the aftermath of sexual abuse, violent relationships, racial violence, unfaithful relationships, economic desperation, loss of children, etc... But these are not passive victims -- Gay gets deep into the complex subjectivity of her female characters -- often portraying a web of complicated emotions and motivations. There is a tiny silver lining that occasionally shines through in the form of powerful redemptive relationships mostly between sisters, including a couple of sets of twins. My 3.5 star rating is a recognition of Gay's talent. She writes fearlessly, treading confidently into seriously uncomfortable territory. But, oh man, so many of her stories are on the far end of bleak, relentlessly so. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,462 reviews8,570 followers
January 8, 2017
Roxane Gay slays what she needs to slay with this riveting, hard-hitting short story collection about difficult women and the dangerous situations they face. As Gay has discussed in interviews, society often puts women in positions where they must fight and act "difficult" to survive - to fend off a leery coworker, to break free from an abusive boyfriend, to feel understood as a woman of color in a town filled with whiteness. This collection contains challenging topics, such as sexual assault, rampant infidelity, and death and grieving. It also holds hope in its pages: men who care and can show it in healthful ways, humans healing from loss, and women who overcome impossible odds. With Difficult Women, Gay proves her versatility as a writer, as she can pen exemplary novels and essays, as well as splendid short stories.

I loved a few of the stories in this collection. "North Country," "La Negra Blanca," and "Break All the Way Down" impressed me the most. They featured complex women with deep emotions that manifested in gripping, sad, and ultimately redemptive ways. Gay's writing comes across as piercing and no-nonsense; she has a fierce control of language that carries over all the genres she writes. While some of the shorter pieces felt under-developed or gimmicky or just did not resonate with me as much, Gay succeeds overall in portraying a diverse cast of difficult women. Recommended to those who have read and enjoyed Gay's other work, as well as to those who want a sharp, compelling short story collection that centers women and their suffering, their resilience.
Profile Image for Taryn.
325 reviews299 followers
January 13, 2017
Twenty-one short stories about flawed, complex individuals who might typically be reduced to dismissive categories. I can't say I enjoyed reading Difficult Women, but I'm glad I read it. One of the many things that Gay excelled at was creating fully-formed characters and relationships in just a few pages. I felt like I intimately knew each character, even though some of the stories were very short. We're introduced to a variety of women: jaded women, women who don't think they deserve love, women who have been hurt by those they trusted or strangers, women who want to feel pain, women who are trying to find their place, women who know exactly what they want out of life, fierce women who instinctively protect their loved ones.

It isn't light reading. These characters have been pushed to the limit and each story felt like an additional weight on my shoulders. In multiple stories a character begs another not to break their heart, only to be later disappointed. Common threads weave throughout many of the stories: child loss, adultery, abuse, rough sex, twins, the bond between women. My only complaint is that if you read it straight through, it feels like you're repeatedly reading about the same situations. I got the most out of it when I only read a single story at a time, so that I could focus more on their differences than their similarities.

One of the best parts of this collection were the moments of recognition and vindication--the feeling that someone else out there understands. There's a part in Difficult Women (Crazy Women) where a woman explains the considerations she makes when walking home late at night and her boyfriend tells her she is crazy. I had this exact same conversation in college and I remember how it made me question my own sanity. It goes to show the importance of having a diversity of voices.

I didn't feel like I fully understood every story, but I found this great quote from Gay about the creation of Water, All Its Weight: "When I wrote this story I was living in an apartment with a rotting ceiling, and I thought: “What if someone created rot just by existing?” It’s interesting that a lot of people read way more into this story. When I write, there is rarely some grand statement I am trying to make. This story was simply a story about a girl who is followed, haunted by water and its weight. Literally." (Chicago Review of Books). It made me feel more at ease when thinking about the stories that ventured into magical realism.


I usually only feature my favorite short stories in these collections, but I felt the need to think through all these stories. My favorites are bolded. Many were shorter, character pieces, but I tend to like longer stories with more plot.

I Will Follow You- A haunting story about the unbreakable bond between sisters. Savvie and Carolina endured a terrible trauma together when they were children. Carolina is married now, but the sisters will always remain inseparable. A perfect opening!

Water, All Its Weight - Everywhere Bianca goes, the water follows--and then comes the rot and mold. Unable to handle the side effects of Bianca's company, everyone in her life abandons her. My favorite moment is the short time when Bianca's affliction is celebrated.

The Mark of Cain (link goes to story)- When this husband is with his mistress, he has his twin brother take his place at home. He thinks his wife doesn't know, but she does--and she prefers the brother. The cycle of violence and the burdens our family can place on us.

Difficult Women - Different categories of misunderstood women: Loose Women, Frigid Women, Crazy Woman, Mothers, Dead Girls. My favorite was Crazy Women.

Florida - A peek into the windows of a Naples, Florida community. There are racial and class divides amongst the inhabitants and employees. New resident Marcy feels out of place next to her perfect neighbors and immediately sees that they "only [exist] in relation to those around them."

La Negra Blanca - A stripper becomes the fixation of a wealthy client who feels entitled to her body. This man fetishizes black women, but was always taught to keep his distance so as not to "tarnish" the family name.

Baby Arm - A woman who knows exactly what she wants out of a relationship meets a man who gets her idiosyncracies. She conflates love and pain. She regularly attends all-girl fight club with her best friend Tate and other "girls who keep their ugly beneath the skin where it belongs, even though sometimes, it's hard to keep it all in." She loves Tate fiercely and Tate always knows exactly what she needs.

North Country - Kate is a black woman, which makes her a "double novelty" at her new university job. She's welcomed with a barrage of insensitive questions and unwanted advances. She’s not ready for love after the end of a bad relationship and the loss of a child, but she begins to see a possible future with a charming logger named Magnus.

How - After years of being taken advantage of, Hanna's family finally pushes her to her breaking point. She makes a plan to run off with her twin sister and her true love Laura. I loved the structure this story and the mini-chapters with names like How These Things Come to Pass & How Hanna Ikonen Knows It Is Time to Get the Girl and Get Out of Town.

Requiem for a Glass Heart - A couple that loves each other, but they each need more than the other can give. The stone thrower, a man of flesh and blood, steals away moments where he "does not have to see too much or love too carefully.” Likewise, the glass woman is sometimes frustrated with her husband "who sees too much and loves too carefully." Their needs overlap, but they're unable to provide those things for each other.

In the Event of My Father’s Death - A father takes his daughter to his mistress’s house on weekends. She eventually follows in father's footsteps.

Break All the Way Down - A woman “uses one hurt to cover another” by finding an abusive boyfriend after the death of her child. Her husband stands on the sidelines until he's unable to watch her self-destruct any longer.

Bad Priest - A priest who "lied so extravagantly that even though he was not a believer, he feared for his mortal soul.” He begins an affair with Rebekah, a woman who "thrived on hopeless relationships." My favorite part was the explanation of why Mickey became a priest.

Open Marriage - A woman toys with her husband after he suggests an open marriage. She knows he'll never be able to follow through.

A Pat - A woman extends kindness to a stranger, but her motivations may be more selfish than it initially appears.

Best Features - Milly is overweight and gets involved in unhealthy relationships because she thinks she has no choice. "She knows how difficult it is to change the world. She used to try to change the world, but she learned better."

Bone Density - A complicated relationship. The couple in this story both have partners outside the marriage, but they still have a strange pull towards one another.

I Am Knife - A powerful woman who uses her capability for violence to protect her loved ones. After the tragic death of her own child, she enviously watches as her twin sister's pregnant belly grows. As painful as it is, she will always be at her sister's side. “I wish I could carve the anger out of my body the way I cut everything else.”

Strange Gods - The first story and last story complement each other. A woman details her past trauma and explains to her devoted partner why she sometimes pushes him away.

My favorite two stories were the ones that felt most of out place:

The Sacrifice of Darkness- Every time miner Hiram Hightower goes underground, he comes back up less of a man. Fed up with a life filled with darkness, he causes the sun to disappear by flying an air machine into it. His family is left to deal with the consequences of his actions. A sweet love story with a hopeful end.
Parents hated Joshua because their parents hated Joshua’s father and none of those kids knew how to be any better than the people who brought them into the world.

Noble Things - Takes place after the second secession of South and the New Civil War. Anna married Patrick, son of a celebrated general who led the Southern states into battle. She wants to move to the North where they've already sent their young son. Patrick hates what the South has become, but his obligation to his family makes it difficult for him to leave. Sacrifice and the ties that bind us. There are so many chilling lines in this one.

Anna and Parker had the conversations they could only have with each other. They tried to remember the before, when they were children and there was only one place to call home, one country, the flag billowing on windy days in front of homes up and down every street—bands of red and white, fifty stars, one nation, indivisible until it wasn’t, how quickly it all came apart.

Difficult Women is a fascinating collection of short stories that I would love to read again eventually. There's so much to unpack that it's impossible to get it all in one go. This was my first Roxane Gay experience, but it certainly won't be my last!

I received this book for free from Netgalley and Grove Atlantic/Grove Press. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. It's available now!
Profile Image for Rebecca.
237 reviews209 followers
November 11, 2021
Difficult Women is a collection of short stories all centered around different women's lives. Common themes are race, sexism, family, death, trauma,
motherhood, assault, and many more. Most of them are dark and heavy, yet very powerful. Her words hit deep and you feel raw emotions as you get to know the characters to such a depth that I thought was impossible in a short story.

Each chapter is a different tale of the challenges of being a woman. These stories, through their painful details, capture important truths and experiences that anyone can read, feel, and understand. Women of all ethnicities and backgrounds can relate to this book.

Roxane Gay is an incredible writer who captures the essence of what it means to be a woman so gracefully and powerfully. She can do no wrong in my opinion.

The woman is a literary powerhouse.

Highly Recommend 👌🏻
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,435 reviews813 followers
July 20, 2020
“For difficult women, who should be celebrated for their very nature.”

Roxane Gay's introduction.

I really liked the first stories – the writing, the characters, the situations. But as it went on, too many of the women (and the men and occasional friends) were like replicas of each other. Whether wealthy or dirt poor, they were difficult for those around them.

I also had the feeling that almost all the women seemed to be defined by the men in their lives. In some cases, they were men they had left, while many were men they were with but needed to leave.

The stories were punctuated with physical battering and sex, often combined. The thoughtful, sensitive people who helped offer sympathy or pick up the pieces afterwards did so by stroking, tracing lines on bodies, and ultimately bathing these walking wounded. It became a theme so much that I would wait for the bath scene. This was sometimes preceded or followed by yet another sex scene.

If I’d read a story or two in a publication, I would have thought they were terrific. Or a novella of the connected ones, maybe.

There are a couple of groups of connected stories, where the characters are all living in a Florida retirement community, for example, which created some added interest.

Then there are a few stories with twins or siblings close in age with strong connections to each other. There are pole dancers, short order cooks, a professor, and an engineer, among others. Many are looking for a way out of their current situation, but a lot are just resigned.

Here, two inseparable sisters are travelling across the country with the older one's boyfriend. The younger asks the older about him.

“She pressed her forehead against mine. Something wet and heavy caught in my throat. ‘Why him?’

‘I’d be no good to a really good man and Darryl isn’t really a bad man.’

I knew exactly what she meant.”

Granted, these girls, victims of childhood abduction, have better reason than most to accept safety over love. But how about Caridad? She works in a gym and has to fend off her charming boss.

“He held her elbow too firmly, his teeth bared, wet. He loved to recline on the wieght bench, spreading his legs wide. He always wore loose shorts and no underwear during their sessions, letting his limp cock hang lazily against his left thigh. No matter how much weight he lifted, he grunted extravagantly. Caridad pretended not to notice. . .

She pushed Sal away, negotiating the complexity of making her point without getting fired.”

She needs the job, and her boyfriend’s hardly worth going home to.

“They had been dating for four years and their relationship was mostly unremarkable. She was smart enough to want more but tired enough to accept the way things were.”

That pretty much sums up the situation in many stories. But there are a few where the women desperately seek to be hurt to offset other, unbearable pain. Like pinching your finger as soon as you stub your toe to take your mind off your toe. We keep trying to fool ourselves.

It makes for 'difficult' reading – beatings, punches, bruises, rough sex and rapes. Gay writes poignancy well and describes some very sensitive scenes, too. I will look for something else she’s written, because I like her writing. I just found this book uneven.

Thanks to NetGalley and Grove Atlantic for the review copy from which I’ve quoted (so quotes may have changed.)
Profile Image for Shannon.
121 reviews101 followers
February 8, 2017
Broken Women
Lost Women
Troubled Women
Abused Women

Many titles come to mind to describe these stories; difficult is not one of them. And I guess because I was expecting a different interpretation of difficult - though, admittedly with Bad Feminist lingering in the back of my mind - this book caught me off guard. Had I picked up this book with An Untamed State frame of mind, I would've been on target.

My primary issue with the book is that nearly all of these women deal with their issues the same way: by hurting themselves, hurting other people, or having other people hurt them. I became bored with it. I mean, not one person thought that maybe she needed to take herself to a therapist! Not one person thought that maybe she needed to go away and find herself, learn to love herself, without dragging other people into her mess of emotions.

On the upside, I was pleasantly surprised by the fantasy aspect of some of the stories. I would've enjoyed it even more, again, had I had the proper mindset. It seemed odd to have these types of stories mixed in with stories that were in no way fantastical.

The final page of this book lists credits which reveal that every one of these stories appeared in a "slightly modified format" in other publications from as far back as 2009. Not sure why but that has me feeling like I've been gypped. But the fact that these stories weren't all written specifically for this book could explain the lack of originality across them. Though, honestly, I'm also feeling some kind of way about Gay as a writer after this. I think this book has confirmed that her writing doesn't connect with me, which is too bad because I was stoked about the upcoming release of Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body. Now I wonder if I want to read it at all.
Profile Image for Book Riot Community.
953 reviews127k followers
December 20, 2016
You can’t just use words like “great” or “amazing” to describe this story collection. I settled on astonishing, arresting, and staggering. It requires language that pinpoints at least a little the ways that Difficult Women will wreck you. You will be wrecked, but you will also feel affirmed and seen and known. That may sound like a contradiction, but that is what Difficult Women is all about. The contradictions of existing as a woman in the world. The contradictions of sex, love, and connection. It is possible to want to be held and to be hurt at the same time and that is the essence of these stories.

–Jessica Woodbury

from The Best Books We Read In November 2016: http://bookriot.com/2016/12/01/the-be...
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
February 10, 2017
There is no question that this author can write and write well, and that I am the outlier so far in many reviews. These stories were grim, women placed in difficult situations, women treated with little kindness, many seemed to just accept their lives would be like this. Hopelessness, despair, women in many different situations, many occupations. Some were more fantastical and I found these a welcome relief. These may be realistic, thankfully I don't know, maybe these are true depictions of some women's lives and probably are, but I finished these, and will admit to skipping around, glad they are not representative of mine.
Profile Image for Elle (ellexamines).
1,084 reviews17.5k followers
December 14, 2017
Okay, first of all: I love Roxane Gay. I've actually never read anything by her before, but I saw her speak at my local bookstore recently and absolutely loved it. She was one of the funniest speakers we've ever had, I think. I also love that she's a famous feminist who isn't a skinny straight white woman. Nothing against skinny straight white woman; it's just great to see famous feminists who have different marginalized identities, too.

Unfortunately, as much as I respect her, I'm not sure how much I liked this book. I really can't even remember the last time I felt so mixed about a story collection.

First of all, it's more about relationships between men and women than anything else. I just tried to find a counterexample to prove the rule and realized there isn't one. Every single one of these focuses on the relationships between men and women. That's fine, it's just something I think you should know going in.

And unfortunately, many of these stories didn't feel all that new or different to me. For example, at least a few of these are love stories in which the main character deals with hate of some kind. And possibly the most troubling to me - at least ten of these stories have protagonists who are turned on at some point by men being sexist or generally shitty. I'm not joking. That's not necessarily a bad story; I know Roxane Gay herself has talked about feeling this way due to her own experiences. It just felt very repetitive. It's also completely unrelatable for me personally. I'm gay, turned on exclusively by kindness, and also a very non-sexual person in general, so basically nothing about that was relatable to me. And unfortunately, these stories rely on you relating. Honestly, the only two stories with protagonists I found at all relatable were How and La Negra Blanca. Guess which my two faves were.

I have to admit that this pattern of storytelling felt kind of alienating to me as a gay woman. There's so much here about the girl being turned on because the guy doesn't treat her like she's made of glass. My dude, that is the bare fucking minimum.

I've also seen this marketed a lot as being very intersectional, and though Roxane Gay definitely has a lot of intersectional identities, I felt this collection used stereotypes far more than it deconstructed them. There's the getting-turned-on-by-men-being-terrible thing, of course. But there are also a few characters in here who seemed to me like stereotypical predatory lesbians - a trope which, by the way, I have never seen occur in reality. With only one story here, How, that contains a love story between two women, this felt a little eh to me. What made this even weirder to me is that Roxane Gay is openly bi (also this tweet is so funny?? what an icon). I think she may have been trying to deconstruct stereotypes, but to me, some of these characters felt like enforcing stereotypes more than deconstructing. Of course, there's nothing wrong with being stereotypical as a real person. But these aren't real people. They're characters in stories.

One more thing you should know going in: there's no thesis to many of these. These stories are explorations, not thesis papers. It's also interesting to note that these stories are interesting to be looked at as a whole, rather than separately. Reviewing all of them may even have been a bad choice on my part, but it took around twenty stories for me to realize that, so you got full reviews too!!


I Will Always Follow You - ★★★★☆
Two sisters remember their kidnapping as children. It's good, well-written with good characters. I just wanted a little more, to be honest.

Water, All Its Weight - ★★☆☆☆
A woman causes stains to form on her bedroom ceiling throughout her life. It's a metaphor for feminism, probably. What was this?

The Mark of Cain - ★★★☆☆
A woman married to a man with an identical twin. This is another of those metaphorical stories, but for some reason I enjoyed this. Unfortunately, just like the other metaphor stories, it had the biggest non-ending I've ever read. Yes, I'm aware that was the point. But it kind of fizzled for me.

Difficult Women - ★★★☆☆
Thoughts about different kinds of women.
I have slightly mixed thoughts on this. It's powerful in a way, but it really does more stereotyping than exploring those stereotypes.

FLORIDA - ★★★☆☆
Snapshots of life at a Florida gated community. This was really too short. It's a study of race, class, and gender in rich areas, and it really doesn't offer any new insight. I wanted more.

La Negra Blanca - ★★★★★
This shattered me in the best way. It feels a lot more like the traditional slice-of-life I expected, just like I Will Always Follow You, and it's very powerful. I think I liked the slice-of-lifes best. This is one of the few stories where the main character isn't turned on by Men Being Shitty. Sarah is turned on by having a healthy relationship with her neighbor Alvarez. They're the only couple in this collection I truly stan for.

Baby Arm - ★★☆☆☆
Yet another metaphorical story. There's a fight club and a glass baby arm and some really odd threesome dirty talk. Don't ask.

North Country - ★★★☆☆
This is... also very metaphorical. By this point I'd begun to realize this collection is more about relationships between men and women than anything else. For example, this is a love story in which the main character deals with hate from a lot of different sources. That's what the last two stories were about, too. I didn't hate this and I don't think stories like this have no place - experiences like this are important. But these experiences are all so similar as to the recovery part of things. This pattern honestly felt kind of alienating to me. Can't a few of these women not end up with a guy?

How - ★★★★★
I liked this one a lot!! It's the story of an escape, following Hanna, her twin sister Anna, and her friend Laura. I loved the characters and the romantic relationship.

Requiem for a Glass Heart - ★★★☆☆
Wow, this was pointless and fake-deep. Men cheat on their wives because... they think their wives are too delicate? Alright, I guess so? At least the writing is good, I guess.

In the Event of my Father's Death - ★★★☆☆
This follows a girl whose cheating father has just died. I enjoyed this, but... I didn't love it. Why? Because this is four pages long. Literally. Look at the story. It's four fucking pages.

Break All the Way Down - ★★★★★
This is about a woman trying to punish herself and trying to find her way home. It's one of those stories that hits you in the chest.

Bad Priest - ★★★☆☆
Again, this seemed kind of pointless. There's no thesis; it's more an exploration of faith and selfishness. That being said, it's written very well and the characters felt real.

Open Marriage - ★★☆☆☆
I can't even review this. It's two fucking pages. A man suggests an open marriage to his wife and she's okay with it, because metaphor. It got two stars for being well-written and short enough to get that shit over with.

A Pat - ★★☆☆☆
Again, two pages is not a story. I guess it didn't annoy me enough to give it a lower rating. Her writing is really good.

Best Features - ★★★☆☆
Exploration of misogyny experienced when being fat. Fits the collection well, but individually it felt just okay.

Bone Density - ★★☆☆☆
Dissecting affairs. Again, I really can't imagine anyone reacting like this to an affair. Why are all of these women turned on by men being disappointments? Not to be shady @ men right now, but wouldn't that just lead to constantly being turned on?

I Am a Knife - ★★★☆☆
It's all a metaphor. For something. The writing of this is stunning, though, maybe the best in the whole collection.

The Sacrifice of Darkness - ★★★★☆
This was really weird, but the quotes? And what it has to say about greed? Stunning. I felt like I got what Roxane Gay meant here, what she wanted to convey, everything.

Noble Things - ★★★★☆
This is an interesting story. It's about politics and war, set in a future dystopian world. It would be fun to get a whole book out of this one short story. One thing, though: can't authors realize the far west coast has water? Given what's said about water production, I'm assuming Roxane Gay meant for Washington and Oregon to be included in the northern colonies with California. They have too much water to be dry.

Strange Gods - ★★★☆☆
This is Gay's personal story, so I feel weird rating it lower. But honestly, I didn't enjoy this much.

VERDICT: Gay didn't put a thesis on most of these stories, so guess what? I don't have to have a thesis for this review. Make your own decision based on my review and others. I think this will be a polarizing collection.

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Profile Image for Daisy.
193 reviews68 followers
May 1, 2021
Hate is a strong word but I truly hated this collection of stories. I say collection of stories but that is not quite accurate as that would suggest that there was some discernible difference between them when there really isn't. It is a lazy piece of work - and I agree with another review that says the high rating is due to women feeling they cannot knock the sisterhood and maybe that's the explanation. Gay just knew she could write any old crap and get away with it.
My main issue is that every story is the same - these are not difficult women these are all women whose stories are defined by their relationships (in the main with men). Every story has the woman having some kind of vaguely abusive sex, in most the woman gets turned on by the roughness and violence of the sex, she loves the man more the more bruised and sore she is afterwards. Every single one!
The men are all useless: lazy, spongers, violent, abusive, rapists, cheaters and yet the women only exist in relation to them. Less difficult women than dependent women.
In no story is the woman defined in any way outside the domestic, they have no interests no thoughts beyond their man and family.
Finally the language itself is lazy. Every story has a character that is described as meaty. Either they are meaty or a part of them is meaty and by the end even a character's knuckles are meaty. Yep those knobbly little bones are described as meaty! The sex is always described the same, there are sentences that are word for word repeated.
I'm not sure what kind of feminist Gay is but as someone who is regularly called Germaine for my feminist leanings I can honestly say I could not relate to anything within these pages.
Reductionist, repetitive and boring. Avoid and spend your time reading something worthwhile instead.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews503 followers
March 20, 2017
I had an opportunity to see Roxane Gay do a few readings from this collection of short stories a couple of weeks ago. I had wanted to go into that event having read more than just her book of essays, Bad Feminist, but it didn't work out. Instead, I had a chance to hear Gay read a few excerpts and stories from this collection in her own voice. And I liked that.

When I got this collection from the library, I expected to enjoy the stories just as much by reading them. I still rather enjoyed the excerpts I recognized, but let's be real about the stories themselves. They are all about sex. The title, Difficult Women, led me (and I think a lot of other readers) to believe that this would be a collection of stories about women who go against what society wants of women. Society wants women who will be docile, and sweet, except when society wants them to be slutty, but that should be infrequent and usually only when it's convenient.

If that's what you're expecting to read - a bunch of tough, strong-willed women who break all those gender norms in a bunch of kick-ass sorts of ways - then you're going to be disappointed as I was.

These women lead difficult lives, yes, whether forced upon them or by their own choosing. But all of the stories (and I do believe I actually mean all of them) involve sex. Again, whether forced upon them or by their own volition. But sex is very central to all of these stories, and it's not subtle. Women have sex because they think it's what the other character wants. Women have sex because they have no choice. Women have sex because they want to feel something other than whatever pain or hole they have within them.

You know who also writes a lot of stories like that? Oh, I don't know, like all of society for so many years. Usually written by old white men. And as women, we're sick of that. I'm still sick of it even when it's written by a woman. It's boring. It's unimaginative. It's lazy.

Here's my recommendation to you, as a fellow reader. If you want to read this collection, read it slowly. Read one story every couple of nights or something. Don't read more than one at a time because if the storylines don't bother you after a little while (and then I will call bullshit or assume you are dead inside), you may find yourself bothered by the fact that people just have sex to deal with their problems and issues. This isn't to say that people don't do that in their lives, but when you're reading a 250+ page book of short stories, one would wish for there to be a bit of variation between the stories. A lot of them ran together for me, and others I can't remember at all now. And I just finished reading it an hour ago.

The first story is, I think we can all agree, a powerhouse of a story. It's fucking hardcore. If you can make it through that one, you'll be able to make it through the others, though there are others that are also disturbing in different ways. Dare I say it? If you need trigger warnings for violence against women, especially sexual violence, then TRIGGER WARNING TRIGGER WARNING TRIGGER WARNING. This book is not for you. Even the allegorical, fantastical stories included in this collection involve some sex. I'm not a prude, sex is great. But, cheese and rice, every story in a collection? Nope.

I think I like Roxane Gay as a person. I connected with a lot of her essays in Bad Feminist though can appreciate that book is likely to make more of an impact to the people who already agree with her thoughts on things, whereas the people who should read it to have their eyes opened at some of the issues in our society won't read it. That's a problem with feminist literature.

But, okay, now I'm going to comment on something that came up at the reading she did. On stage she participated in a Q&A with the library director, and someone's question from the internet for Gay was something about what is Gay's favorite work of feminist literature. She gave a deep, exhausted sigh and I think her immediate response was "None of them." And then she sort of back-tracked and said "I mean, have you read feminist lit? It's awful." She did finally give an answer (Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me), but to me the seed was already planted.

Gay is, whether she wants to be or not, considered a feminist writer. She wrote Bad Feminist and in it she says she's a, well, "bad feminist" because she likes pink things and a lot of things that are considered anti-feminist, but still believes in the rights of women, etc. etc. I'm down with that, because I think there's a change that is needed in how we define feminism as a whole - that we contain multitudes and that's okay, and we shouldn't be ashamed of that.

This collection of stories has been shelved (to date) 164 times as "Feminist". It seems Gay herself may not even agree with that considering how annoyed she was by the question about what other books of feminism she reads.

What may actually be the case is she is now having difficulty with the fact that feminism has been white for so long, and people still think that all people who are feminists only have the rights of white women in mind when they talk about equality. But that's not always the case, and I do feel we can all step up and try to change that, but the more we talk about how feminism isn't helping, the more damage we are doing. It's okay for me to say I'm a feminist and feel that feminism is and always should be intersectional; but if I fail to say I'm an intersectional feminist, then it's naturally assumed that I don't care about people of color or transgendered. This is not me with all of my white tears, now, so let's not go there. I'm saying that the way we all discuss feminism is problematic, and we all need to be better about it and actually listen to each other, not place assumptions based on our own rigid definitions.

So maybe having her words in my head about feminism (and there were only a few words, but they made an impression on me) colored the way I read this collection. But to be honest, I don't think that's the case. I get bored with stories and novels in which the main character(s) use their sexuality to get what they want, or their sexuality are focal points within the story. As previously stated above, it feels cheap and lazy. It lacks nuance.

I will continue to read what Gay writes because I find her an interesting and intelligent woman, even if her writing leaves me feeling cold at times. I will still read An Untamed State even though I know it will be another difficult read. Many of us look at Gay as a powerful force in feminist literature, and there's nothing wrong with that. I hope Gay herself will come around to that, or maybe react to questions about feminism a bit better in the future (nope, not actually tone-policing, let's not go there). Many young readers are looking up to her; I saw several of them at the reading, and I was excited to see them there. I saw at least one pink pussy-hat.

But, again, seriously. I think Roxane Gay and I need to sit down one Sunday during a Law & Order: SVU marathon and watch the shit out of that show together. Because regardless of anything else, we have that obsession in common and really, what more do two people need to get along?

And if you have an opportunity to see Gay give a reading, lecture, or just a Q&A, I do highly recommend it. She is wickedly smart and funny and has awesome commentary on Cheetolini.
Profile Image for Rachel.
582 reviews68 followers
February 10, 2017
Hot damn, I get to be the first to review a book—and not just any book, but Roxane Gay’s short story collection! *throws confetti*

[clears throat]

Thanks to Netgalley I was able to read Roxane Gay's forthcoming short story collection, Difficult Women, in exchange for an honest review.

I’m giving this one five stars. It’s probably technically 4.5 stars, but I’m rounding up because I absolutely love Roxane Gay and some of the stories deserve more than 5 stars.

I feel like a broken record every time I review volumes of short stories but it’s the nature of a collection for some pieces to be stronger than others and that’s the case here once again. To be clear, there’s not a bad story in the book and some are perfectly executed. If I met an aspiring writer who didn’t understand voice, I’d hand this book to them because dear Lord Roxane Gay has killer voice! She nails it, pulling you in to each story. A lot of overlapping themes emerge and yes, some of the stories have the same feel to the point some may argue there’s some repetition at play. Over and over we read about sex, loss, trauma, love, marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, and violence. But each story says something a little different and each is its own powerhouse of a tale. I definitely had some favorites—‘The Mark of Cain,’ ‘La Negra Blanca,’ and ‘Strange Gods’ probably rank in the top five for me. ‘The Sacrifice of Darkness’ was probably my least favorite, but again, there are no bad stories in this collection. Gay is a fantastic writer and this is a notable book. The only problem with it is it doesn’t come out until January. But I think you’ll find it’s worth the wait.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,179 reviews617 followers
January 17, 2017
I don't generally read feminist writing and I've never read anything by Roxane Gay before. However, I once heard her speak as part of a TV panel discussion and she was such an erudite, smart and interesting speaker that I was drawn to read this book of her short stories.
The women in her stories are not so much 'difficult' but real and tough and sometimes tender and loving. Many of them have difficult lives or difficult starts to life and have had to endure or overcome poverty, abuse and even abduction. Some of them use physical pain or rough sex to numb emotional pain and those stories can be hard to read. What they share is that they are all strong and passionate and empowered to overcome their setbacks in life. This is a powerful collection of stories. Gay's language is lean and direct but somehow conveys depth and emotion as she takes us to some dark places. This is not to say the stories are all doom and gloom; there is much humour and hope to be found and even a little speculative fiction.

With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Grove Atlantic for a copy of the book to read and review
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,342 reviews699 followers
September 21, 2017
I am a bit surprised at the stories in “Difficult Women. I expected “difficult” women as thought of in this current pop-culture political climate. For me, there were no difficult women. The women in these stories were abused, afraid, forlorn, and insecure. If a story had a sturdy woman, she was sturdy in her integrity.

I enjoyed this collection of short stories, and I’m not a short story fan. Author Roxane Gay captivated me with her stories. Most were heart wrenching, worthy of the “Oprah” selection. There was a couple of magic realism that I found perplexing, but that’s because of my limited ability in that genre. Perhaps some readers could find some of the main characters “difficult”, but I felt that Ms Gay wrote her stories in such a way that explained the nature of each character. There was a reason for each character to behave left of center. I am a big fan of these sorts of stories/novels that explain the human condition, flaws and all. I enjoyed the majority of these stories, and the ones I didn’t enjoy were short.

All in all, I’d say my only beef is that the title of the collection is off, at least for me. It could have been “21st Century Contemporary Women”. Or “Women with Struggles” or anything BUT “Difficult Women”. Alas, that is my opinion that may or may not reflect the opinions of others. I found it a fascinating read, worthy of ones time.
May 29, 2017

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Reviewing anticipated works like these is always difficult, especially if you're reviewing the book before it's been officially published. I'm not sure about others, but I always feel a tremendous amount of pressure - I want to give my honest opinion, but I also want to be as objective as possible and explain, more broadly, what the book is about and who the audience is.

I'd heard stellar things about Roxane Gay's BAD FEMINIST. It's been on my to-read list for ages. I was thrilled to be approved for an advance reader copy of her latest book, DIFFICULT WOMEN. Women are told from childhood not to be "difficult": to be soft-spoken, easy-going, and unassuming. The title, DIFFICULT WOMEN, made me think of Elizabeth Wurtzel's similarly titled book, BITCH: IN PRAISE OF DIFFICULT WOMEN. I anticipated stories of women, all kinds of women, who don't fit the stereotypical mold but are still women - living breathing women - with hopes, and stories, and dreams.

What I got...was not quite that.

Ordinarily with anthologies, I'll do a breakdown of each story, provide a summary and my thoughts, and then a rating. Since I'm a little burned out on anthologies, this anthology in particular, I'm not going to be as thorough (although if you're curious, check out my status updates for this book - I assigned each story a rating there). Plus, I think I'm going to be pushing the char limit as is.

DIFFICULT WOMEN is an odd collection, with stories ranging in length from a single page to almost thirty. Some of the stories are magic-realism, others uncomfortably realistic. It felt like the unifying theme of this book was that women are victims and men are the perpetrators. There was a whole lot of rape, abuse, and objectification in this book. A whole lot. It got really exhausting after a while, and maybe that was the point. I did wonder if DIFFICULT WOMEN was a bold middle finger to the people out there who blame the victim, especially when the victims are female, and call them "difficult" without caring to understand what caused them to be that way. If that is the case, then the author accomplished that goal...but to a desolate and rather miserable end.

I Will Follow You was my favorite story, and the one that I found the most emotionally engaging. It's about two sisters who suffered a horrible trauma when they were younger. Now that one of them is married the nature of their relationship is changing, but the closeness between them is undeniable. This story made me tear up, because it's so powerful, and just great all around.

Water, All Its Weight is a bizarre magic realism story about a girl who is followed by rain all the time, and how the water pushes her away from loved ones. I'm sure it's meant to symbolize something, but I wasn't sure what. The style of this one kind of reminded me of Laura Esquivel's work. I like Esquivel, so I liked this story, even if I didn't fully understand what it meant.

The Mark of Cain is about a woman who is married to a twin. He switches place with his twin sometimes for fun, little knowing that his wife is well aware of what he's doing and secretly prefers the twin. When her husband is playing musical beds, he trades places with his twin's girlfriend, who isn't aware of what is going on. This is the first of many a-hole husband cheating stories.

Difficult Women got me really excited because it's the titular story! I think the intent of this one is to humanize the derogatory stereotypes that are sometimes used to label women by providing them with a backstory that could conceivably explain their present state. I thought this one was decent, but the whole time I was aware of the irony that many of these backstories were stereotypes themselves.

Florida is split into several different narratives, and takes place in the town of Naples, Florida, and all the wealthy women who live there (as well as some of the not-so-wealthy ones). Using these narratives, the author makes some interesting statements about race and class.

La Negra Blanca is a story about a pole dancer who is half-black, half-white, and using her career to pay for her college education (which is also super cliche, but this is possibly because I've read way too many new adult books, and this is the go-to money making scheme in that genre). She has two men in her life: one of them is Latino and poor, the other one is rich and white. It is a brutally tragic and unfair story, and I think if I had to choose, this is the story that made me the angriest.

Baby Arm is a story I blanked out on. It wasn't very good. A weird romance.

North Country was another favorite, because it's a beautiful romance that also highlights many of the nuanced and subtle acts of racism people of color experience on a day to day basis. After the first story in this collection, I think I'd say this was my second favorite.

How was a weird story. Women with sh*tty lives, surrounded by sh*tty men. One of women is a lesbian, which was kind of nice (diversity!). I wished the relationship between them had been developed more. Based on what happened in the story, I expected more of an emotional connection between them.

Requiem for a Glass Heart was another story where I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be symbolic and I just wasn't understanding the symbolism. It felt like it was about a family that was just going through the motions, and living without passion. Okay.

In the Event of My Father's Death is another story that I blanked out on. I'm looking at my status update for it right now and apparently it had a twist ending, but I don't remember what it was.

Break All the Way Down is a story about grief and loss. I appreciated what it was trying to do, but didn't really care for the execution. Basically: woman cannot cope with the loss of her child.

Bad Priest is exactly what it sounds like. It's about a priest who is having sex with a much younger woman. They have an odd dynamic. There is a lot of sex. Sex is a recurring theme in this book, too, BTW. I wasn't expecting so much erotic content. Nearly every story in this collection gets graphic.

Open Marriage was one of the very short stories I alluded to in the beginning. This one, like Bad Priest, is also self-explanatory, but it feels snarkier than many of the stories before it.

Pat felt well-intentioned, but also came across as condescending. I liked the message of befriending people who aren't much to look at on the surface, but the reason given for this is kind of insulting. It isn't quite clear of the person who is giving this message is being condemned or not for it, either. The author is really good at writing with a "poker face." I really had trouble gauging her intent.

Best Features really reminded me of the book 13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A FAT GIRL, a book I really enjoyed despite its dark and frequently uncomfortable content. It's a story about an overweight girl who feels like she has to sleep with men to get them to be with her...but she's also self-aware enough about it to feel a biting anger that made her interesting.

Bone Density is story of two academics who are married...and cheating on each other. Despite this, they still love each other (sort of) but the proverbial spark is fading. Odd.

I am a Knife is another magic realism story. I actually liked this one more before the magic realism element came into play. After that, it got weird. And kind of gory. o_0

The Sacrifice of Darkness is another magic realism story that doesn't even feel like it belongs in this collection. It's about a miner who pulls an "Icharus" one day, and flies so close to the sun that he puts it out of the sky. His legacy lives on through his son, who has to live with all the resentment of the people in his town. It also has a love story. I kind of liked this one, despite its strangeness.

Noble Things was my least favorite. It was boring. I skimmed it. Don't ask me about this one.

Strange Gods was probably the third-best story in the bunch. One of the flaws of this book is that many similar stories are placed in close proximity to each other - such as How and In the Event of My Father's Death - so that they end up running together. I did, however, like that the two most realistic and emotionally gripping stories were placed like bookends at the beginning and the end. Strange Gods is a story about rape, and how the effects of it can ripple throughout one's life.

Like I said before, I feel like this collection is supposed to embody the anger and helplessness that arise because of sexism and misogyny. It is a hopeless and heartbreaking book. I did wish that there were some uplifting or more complex stories in this book, however, like women who are working in careers mostly dominated by men, or women who are starting major or minor rebellions, or trans women, or women who don't wear makeup or don't feel the need to be pretty. I did like the attempt at intersectionality, and appreciated how many of these stories were about women of color specifically (with a few lesbian storylines thrown in), but I felt like this collection could have been so much more.

I'm not mad at DIFFICULT WOMEN and I do think it will stir up some interesting and important discussions, but it wasn't what I was expecting or hoping for.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the free copy!

2.5 to 3 stars.
Profile Image for Louise Wilson.
2,754 reviews1,617 followers
December 12, 2016
Difficult women is a collection of stories. The women in these stories live lives of privilege and poverty. In marriages that are loving and haunted. Where neighbours conform, compete and spy on each other.

Not usually my preference for reading but it's good to try something different and I'm glad I did.

I would like to thank NetGalley, Grove Atlantic and the author Roxane Gay for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Trey.
114 reviews43 followers
June 8, 2017
** for the stories.
***** for the writing.

'Difficult Women' – difficult stories; difficult reading experience about flawed women, crappy men and messed up lives. With 'Difficult Women', you have a collection of 21 unique short stories, told in explicit, but skillful fashion. Character driven; women taking lead roles (mostly) in graphic narratives that evokes feelings of loss, emptiness, loneliness, depression, outrage, identity, bonds, eccentricities, to name several.

A lot of the stories told in 'Difficult Women' work like News exposés, revealing the seamy, derailed lives and private worlds of broken people. Regardless of how harsh these stories were, Ms. Gay managed, with much deft and fearlessness, to pull me into the minds and hearts of these unfortunate women. I was impressed with her strength as a writer and the way she casually unleashes lexical prowess. There are many lines throughout the narratives, that Ms. Gay ingeniously wraps around her characters like concertina wire, either to protect them or warn others to stay away. Careful now... you're emotions will get prickled, buzzed or seared - depending on which story you read.

This isn't your average mainstream anthology, but then again these aren't your average people. However, after this reading, I wondered if there was any value to find in these stories, and other than empathy, found very little. Given the content of many of these stories, it didn't seem like they were all about difficult women, but difficult women and disturbing women. And I should also note that the men in these stories are just the same; save for 'Magnus', there wasn't one male character to care for. There were less than a handful of entertaining tales, the rest were off putting. So this is a tough one, but in spite of great writing, I'm not recommending it.
Profile Image for Clumsy Storyteller .
350 reviews727 followers
August 20, 2017
i know i know. it took me forever to finish this book, i was on vacation and couldn't read much. Anyway. Difficult women was an original work. i have never read anything like this, such beautiful stories, heartbreaking at times. I loved it, and had a great time reading it. Most of these stories were about wives and mothers. stories I couldn't relate to, i'm not married nor am I a mother, still I found the stories very captivating and challenging. Roxane Gay is smart and brave to write about topics most authors avoid. I admire her for that. My least favorite story is "Florida", Anyone who knows me knows how much I hate trophy wives, and their life style. (Women are independent strong creatures on their own, and need to stop being men's ) And Florida is about a woman who follows her husband around urghhh, the first page was enough for me to stop reading it.

Overall it was a good book.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
October 17, 2020
I just don't think Roxane Gay is a natural short story writer. Love her non-fiction, but these are mostly not good, at least those that I've read. A good short story is layered. These ones are too straight-forward in writing and themes.
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