Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Kate Walker

I ordered this book after I was only half way finished with Roxane Gay’s book Bad Feminist–that’s how enamored I was with her writing and her topics. Reading the short stories in Difficult Women was a powerful reading experience. I found myself putting the book down between stories, contemplating the women, their stories, and the writing. I wanted all my friends to read this book immediately so I could talk about it with someone.

I wanted to talk about how “Break All the Way Down” made so much sense, even though it felt hard to read about the loss.  I tried explaining it to my students, who had read The Kite Runner–this story of a woman who lost her child and wanted to be punished reminded me of Amir, who wanted to be punished for his childhood crime his entire life, and that moment when he finally is becomes a release. For the past week, every time I’ve been in a parking lot, I have an eagle eye on small children running around, and I drive slower. These stories are real. Visceral. Powerful. And the women in them are strong, especially when they experience something traumatic.

I wanted to talk about the recurring motif of twins in this story collection, which reminded me of some of Helen Oyeyemi’s books (and I also immediately sent a copy of Difficult Women to the former student who introduced me to Oyeyemi’s books). As the youngest child, I always wondered what it would be like to have a twin, to have a built-in playmate, or even a sister so close she’d follow me directly into danger, like Carolina does in the first story of this collection, “I Will Follow You.” These stories offer explanations for any future behaviors that may be read as out of the norm by society, but reading these stories explains how simple words from our parents when we are young children can influence the rest of our lives (as seen in “A Pat”).

This collection of short stories also contains a number of tales with magical realism, something I appreciate more and more as I age.  The story of how the sun goes out in “The Sacrifice of Darkness” makes more sense to me than many stories I’ve read in the past without elements of magical realism.

Everyone should read this book, but just a heads up about the content–it is strong, powerful, and at times graphic (just like life can be).  I’m reticent about putting this book on my high school library shelf, on the other hand, there might be young women who need to read this book. In the mean time, I’m recommending it and gifting it to friends, and I will continue to talk about it (more generally) with students who might be interested in it.

If you have a chance, and you’re close to Pittsburgh on March 6, 2017, Roxane Gay will be speaking at Carnegie Music Hall, and tickets are only $15!

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Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

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Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

I picked this book up at NCTE at the HarperCollins booth.  I admit, the cover and the title got me (be honest, you judge books by their covers, too). Roxane Gay’s name seemed vaguely familiar to me, and after reading Teju Cole’s book of essays, I’ve been on the lookout for more modern essays that I might use in class or just read for my own edification. I’m so glad I picked this book up to read. From the introduction to the closing, I found it engaging, thoughtful, and relatable.

I particularly enjoyed how Gay arranged the book into sections. She begins with ME, then moves to GENDER AND SEXUALITY and then RACE AND ENTERTAINMENT, followed by POLITICS, GENDER, & RACE, and finally BACK TO ME.  I already copied the essay titled “Feminism” and gave it to my senior who is president of the Feminist Club at school. In the introduction, Gay writes:

“I am a bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I am not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to have all the answers I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying–trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in the world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky, and sometimes dances her ass of to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with repairmen because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground.”

So I know that was a long quote, but honestly, that long quote epitomizes why I fell in love with Gay’s writing and why I’m recommending this book of essays. As a woman the same age as her, I understand the reasons she says she’s a bad feminist. I struggled in my teens and twenties to avoid wearing pink because I didn’t want to undermine my strength as a woman. Now, I wear pink because I like it. I grapple with liking songs containing misogynist lyrics and I’ve often just let men fix things for me because it is easier.

imgresAll the essays are powerful for different reasons. Whether it is about a TV show like Girls or Orange is the The Black or whether it is about her own experiences in life, Gay’s voice prompted me to keep turning the page. She talks to the reader like the friend we all want to have: she’s honest, she’s smart, and she’s willing to examine ideas carefully and challenge us to do the same. I particularly enjoyed her essays about entertainment because she put into words some of the things that bothered me about popular culture that I hadn’t been able to articulate. I wish I was young enough to be going to college because I’d (attempt to) matriculate at Purdue and take one of her creative writing courses.

The good news is, I can still hear her speak about her new book, Difficult Women  (which I bought immediately upon finishing Bad Feminist). I posted on twitter how much I loved reading her book, and a former student replied she was going to see Roxane Gay speak. It turns out, she’s speaking only 3 hours away during my spring break, so I immediately bought tickets. If you want to see her, she has many upcoming tour dates. If you can’t make those dates, at least pick up one of her books, you won’t regret it.

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posted by Kate, PCTELA Blog Editor

Book Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay