Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review: Difficult Women

Roxane Gay is an author who is revered for her novel An Untamed State, as well as her essay collection Bad Feminist. This is her first major short story collection and it is just as powerful as her other writing.  

These stories feature women in a variety of situations, but each one of them is dark and heart-wrenching. The first follows a pair of sisters united by childhood trauma and willing to do whatever is necessary for their sibling's safety and well-being. The title story is one the most powerful, as we see one woman's life through tiny vignettes as she makes a life for herself, protects herself with anger and exercise and car keys, and raises her son. Our unnamed protagonist is described as loose, frigid, and crazy at various points and there is an unavoidable feeling that she is fighting a battle she cannot win.

Some have a touch of magical realism, like the story of a woman who is followed by water wherever she goes. Others are all reality; in Florida, Gay takes us behind the closed doors of an exclusive gated community where the long-time residents try to hold onto their power and prestige, a new resident wonders if she will ever belong, and a fitness instructor pretends she isn't bothered by the way the residents treat her.

These tales are dark and violent and full of sex and anger and loss. The women in these stories are not necessarily difficult by nature; many of them become "difficult" because of the traumas they have encountered. Short story collections can often by uneven, but this one is incredible from the first story to the last page.

Difficult Women
By Roxane Gay
Grove Press January 2017
260 pages
Read via Netgalley


  1. Difficult Women sounds like the perfect book for keeping nearby to read a story here and there between other books. Nice review!

  2. If only I loved reading short story collections...but I don't. :)

  3. This sounds amazing! I don't read many short story collections, but I enjoy collections of character-driven stories like this.

  4. I know Gay's fiction is likely to be darker than what I usually can make myself read, but I love her nonfiction and really admire her, so I think I'm going to give this one a try.