Brina's Reviews > Difficult Women

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
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bookshelves: african-american-literature, feminism, short-stories

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.
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Reading Progress

June 26, 2017 – Shelved
June 26, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
June 26, 2017 – Shelved as: african-american-literature
June 26, 2017 – Shelved as: feminism
June 26, 2017 – Shelved as: short-stories
July 13, 2017 – Started Reading
July 13, 2017 –
page 77
July 13, 2017 –
page 170
July 14, 2017 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-20 of 20 (20 new)

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message 1: by Gina (new) - added it

Gina McDonald I just recently met her in Cincinnati at a book store appearance, after finishing Hunger. I love her writing and HUNGER was a big open door into her world

Brina One book at a time for me. Gina, that is great that you got to meet her but it may be awhile until I get to Hunger as I need a break in between books.

message 3: by Lata (new)

Lata I appreciate your review, Brina. I have not been able to read this book yet, as it deals so much with rape (triggers bad memories in me). I like your honesty about struggling with the difficult stories.

Brina Lata I am concerned that all of her books are difficult to read which is a shame because the writing is excellent. It would be amazing if she wrote about something uplifting.

message 5: by Margit (new)

Margit Arnadóttir I have recently bought a copy of Roxane Gay's books. I've heard a lot about her and she's supposed to be really interesting. I'm excited to read the book!

Brina Margit good luck. It's a tough read and I'm interested in your thoughts on it.

message 7: by Jaline (new)

Jaline Excellent review, Brina!

Brina Thank you as always, Jaline :-)

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Powerful, thoughtful review, Brina. I have her books but have been holding off until I feel confident I can safely enter (and exit) her world. Thanks for the heads-up on what this one entails emotionally.

message 10: by Temy (new) - added it

Temy Excellent review, Brina, and I agree with your viewpoint. Her writing is beautiful but the subject matters, the rape, the abuse, ... are too much for me. I did not finish the book since I did not want to put my mind in those states!

Bianca A very thorough review.

message 12: by Julie (new)

Julie Brina, nice job here. Tough one.

message 13: by Simone (new)

Simone Martel Excellent review. I read most of her book of essays: "Bad Feminist," last year and thought they were surprisingly light, many about pop-culture. These stories sound very different.

Brina Wyndy, Temy, Bianca, Julie, Simone. Thank you all for your comments. This was a tough book to read and Bad Feminist sounds better at least on paper.

message 15: by Barbara (new)

Barbara Wonderful review Brina.

Brina Thank you, Barbara :-)

Susan Just down loaded the book to my kindle. Have a few books I still need to read, but this book will be next in line. Thank you for the great review.

Brina Thank you Susan. I hope you like the writing. It is a tough read but shows real people.

Cynthia Marie Great review Brina. I've read all of Roxane Gay's books and Difficult Women is the one I liked the least. I don't read many short story collections so perhaps that is part of it. I agree the writing is fantastic but the constant violence against women is too much in 21 short stories. Interestingly, although An Untamed State was heart-wrenching due to the subject matter, I enjoyed it immensely.

Brina Thank you, Cynthia Marie. My main reason for reading short stories is when I'm rushed and don't have the energy to get into a full length novel. Gut wrenching pretty much sums up my feelings about this collection but I would like to give Gay another try.

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