Difficult Women

Difficult Women

Author: Roxane Gay

Publisher: Corsair

Published: 3 January 2017

Rating: 3 stars



“It was too much. She didn’t dare trust it. She broke his heart. When she closes her eyes, she remembers his fingers, tracing the bones of her spine.”

Difficult Women is Roxane Gay’s latest short story collection. The collection focuses on quirky women with hardscrabble lives who are hunting for passionate loves through vexed human connection. The women live lives of privilege and poverty, and are in marriages both loving and haunted by crimes or emotional blackmail.

This is a very dark collection; focusing on abuse victims, mother dealing with the death a her children, pressure to conform to society ideal body image and broken families. I can’t say this was a collection I enjoy reading, in the traditional sense of the meaning enjoy. Some of the stories like La Negra Blanca makes my skin crawl. It’s an important collection, which gives voice to haunting realities some women live.

I would suggest reading these stories with a break in between—maybe one a day—only because having read them one after another I found myself getting desensitised to these women’s horrible situations. The women started to read the same. They were sad women with horrible circumstances thrown at them and who were trying to find some sense of worth through sex. This is a very real reality and I applaud Gay for representing it. I just think in a collection like this there needed to be some variation. Thinking back on the collection the stories are all intermingled and I’m finding it hard to separate them.

The reason I gave this collection 3 stars is because it wasn’t the collection I thought it would be. And this fault lies with the marketing. My expectation was that this would be a feminist collection. When I hear the title was Difficult Women I was expecting women who were fighting against the mold society has for them. However, the Difficult Women in this collection weren’t difficult because they challenged gender roles but were, mostly, victims. Which, in my mind, doesn’t make them difficult at all.

Overall, this is a brave collection and not one for the faint of heart. Gay’s writing is beautiful and the way she plays with form and structure is genius. Would definitely recommend if you’re looking for a raw, realist collection that will play with your heart and leave it slightly dented.


Individual Ratings

  • I Will Follow You – 3
  • Water, All Its Weight – 2.5; not sure I understood the water thing but more a fault I think on me not on the writing
  • The Mark of Cain – 4
  • Difficult Women – 4; love the structure of this!
  • FLORIDA – 3; again such an interesting structure
  • La Negra Blanca – 4; haunting one of the POVs make my skin crawl and feel sick
  • Baby Arm – 4; like the concept also enjoyed that the protagonist was different harder, raw and less sad than the others in the collection so far
  • North Country – 5; I adore this!
  • How – 3
  • Requiem for a Glass Heart – 5; loved the fairy tale like element
  • In the Event of my Father’s Death – 3
  • Break All The Way Down – 5; heart breaking, beautiful
  • Bad Priest – 3; I was worried about where this piece would go given the themes of a few of the earlier stories and I’m really glad it didn’t go there
  • Open Marriage – 4
  • A Pat – 3
  • Best Features – 5; this one is, for me, really relatable. It made me feel like she has taking all the bad thought I’ve bad or stupid things I’ve done, in relation to relationships, because I’m overweight and poured it onto the page. Hard to read but stunning.
  • Bone Density – 4
  • I Am a Knife – 4
  • The Sacrifice of Darkness – 5
  • Noble Things – 5
  • Strange Gods– 4

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