Book Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
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!
Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA