A powerful collection of stories centred on the theme of the difficulties women face when they search for or assert their independence.
Roxane Gay is not afraid to take risks. Her exploration of the multi-faceted lives women lead questions our preconceptions about likeability. What makes women likeable? More importantly, why are women who do not fit the restrictive mould society expects them to adhere to labelled “difficult”?
Anyone familiar with Gay’s writing, particularly her essay collection Bad Feminist and debut novel An Untamed State, won’t be surprised by the intertwining of sex and violence. These are stories of love, loss, trauma, abuse, motherhood and sex. They feature women who have privilege, women who live in poverty, women who are single, in relationships or who are married, and women who are dealing with past trauma.
The standout stories for me are I Will Follow You and Requiem for a Glass Heart. I Will Follow You sees two sisters, who survived being held captive as teenagers, struggle with relationships in adulthood. Their experience has obviously changed their perception of men. Requiem for a Glass Heart, with its glass woman married to a flesh and blood man, has a touch of magical realism about it.
That some of them were previously published in places like the Oxford American, The Mississippi Review Online and the Minnesota Review left the collection with the potential to feel disjointed. Almost in defiance, Gay weaves her words in a manner that asks “why did you ever doubt me?” Difficult Women is as cohesive as it is masterfully written.
These women are not difficult, but if society insists on viewing them as such then you can expect them to act “crazy”, “loose” or “frigid”. Ask and you shall receive, right? And, yes, this is Gay at her sarcastic best.
Gay deftly switches between the first and third person, ensuring each of these women is distinctive in the process. Gay’s deep dive into what it means to be a “difficult woman” and its intersection with race and social class is as haunting as it is captivating.
Difficult Women is published by Corsair, an imprint of the Little, Brown Book Group, and is available in hardback, paperback and ebook format.