PattyMacDotComma's Reviews > Difficult Women

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
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3.5★
"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.)
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Reading Progress

September 16, 2016 – Shelved
April 6, 2017 – Started Reading
April 6, 2017 –
3.0% "Only just started, but this looks interesting."
April 8, 2017 –
13.0% "She's good, eh? I'm enjoying these stories so far, by which I mean enjoying the writing, not necessarily the situation the characters find themselves in."
April 8, 2017 –
28.0% "Enjoying these women very much!"
April 9, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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Diane S ☔ Excellent review, Patty. Couldn't read this for the reasons you stated. Just not my kind of book.


message 2: by Angela M (new)

Angela M I skipped this


message 3: by Angela M (new)

Angela M Sorry - I skipped this for the same reasons, but appreciate your thoughts, Patty .


PattyMacDotComma Diane S ☔ wrote: "Excellent review, Patty. Couldn't read this for the reasons you stated. Just not my kind of book."

Thanks - understood. I've seen the author interviewed or on panels a couple of times and wanted to see how she writes.


PattyMacDotComma Angela M wrote: "Sorry - I skipped this for the same reasons, but appreciate your thoughts, Patty ."

Thanks - I quite enjoyed some of the stories. She does subtle and sensitive quite well, and some of her characters are quite appealing. But I nearly skipped it too.


message 6: by Kathleen (new)

Kathleen Great review, Patty. Not a book for me.


PattyMacDotComma Kathleen wrote: "Great review, Patty. Not a book for me."

Thanks, and I understand, Kathleen.


message 8: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Ideiosepius good review. I know what you mean too; sometimes the strongest, most vivid authors do themselves no favours by having a whole book of short stories. individually them may be great, one after the other can become too much.


Mary Beth *Traveling Sister* Excellent review Patty!


PattyMacDotComma Deborah wrote: "good review. I know what you mean too; sometimes the strongest, most vivid authors do themselves no favours by having a whole book of short stories. individually them may be great, one after the ot..."

Thanks. I love short stories, Deborah, but when the theme seems repetitive, I lose interest. The women may have come from different walks of life and different age groups, but the message was too much the same.


PattyMacDotComma Mary wrote: "Excellent review Patty!"

Thank you, Mary!


message 12: by Suzy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Suzy I really agree with this review. maybe if I had read one story a week I would have enjoyed them more, but there was too much overlap in plot development and even language (twin connections, the flat of stomachs, etc.)


PattyMacDotComma Suzy wrote: "I really agree with this review. maybe if I had read one story a week I would have enjoyed them more, but there was too much overlap in plot development and even language (twin connections, the fla..."

Good point, Suzy. If they appeared in different publications at different times, they'd each attract an audience for her message and style, I think. I felt they suffered by being put together.


Belinda Wow it is like you stole the review I was going to write right out of my head!! Could not agree more, I feel almost guilty for saying anything negative because Roxanne Gay is obviously a very talented author but whilst the book started with promise I felt it dragged on and I was just wanting it to end! Yes, if it had just been shorter or I had read just a few of the stories I might feel differently? The constant themes of rough animal like sex and the need for “punishment” via abuse from men became too much for me. I found myself thinking this book should not have been called Difficult Women but rather Damaged Women! I have purchased her book Hunger and still look forward to reading that because I haven’t been put off her as an author but this book was not for me (I also enjoyed the story about the Floria community too!)


PattyMacDotComma Belinda wrote: "Wow it is like you stole the review I was going to write right out of my head!! Could not agree more, I feel almost guilty for saying anything negative because Roxanne Gay is obviously a very talen..."

Damaged indeed, Belinda. I enjoy short stories, whether they’re all different or whether there are continuing characters, but sometimes an author sticks to the same theme. That’s fine when they’re being published at different times in different places and you happen across them here and there. But when they’re collected like this, there’s the danger that they will lose some impact.

I’m sure many women have been called difficult because we/they won’t stay in their box (or the kitchen), but I hope we/they keep being difficult!


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