Difficult Women


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This collection of short stories outlines how women in varying situations cope, survive, and escape from the damage done to them. The dedication of this book is as follows:

For difficult women, who should be celebrated for their very nature.

Roxane Gay does things to me with her writing. As I read, it’s like I’m the characters in her stories. I’ve said this before in my review of An Untamed State, but I’ve never been raped yet after reading her work, I feel as though I have. Please don’t misunderstand either, I don’t feel like she has raped me and I’ve been damaged by the experience of reading her work. What I mean is that she is able to take something that is misunderstood and stigmatized and make you feel what it might be like. She humanizes these horrific events, and in some cases the reality is more frightening than the rumors, stories, and dramatizations. Emotional torment, physical abuse and violations, emotional and physical neglect are all part of these glimpses into the real world of women.

Perhaps equally as maddening are the little things, the small injustices that add up over time. Men don’t remember favorite flowers. Personal space is ignored. Those who are supposedly loved ones join in on the “jokes” that make you feel unsafe. Being there while someone else gets the pleasure and you are used. Being taken advantage of so slowly that you don’t see the trap closing around you until it’s too late. These everyday occurrences are sneaky, tricky, and unless a woman is strong and observant, they will enslave her. It’s so easy to fall into something and then look around 5 years later and say, “Hey, where did these bars and barbed wire come from?”

I’ve read the few reviews that have come out already. People love to focus on the horror, the women, the stereotypes, the survival, the escape. I have read two Roxane Gay novels now, and what is hands down the most beautiful part of her stories are the exceptions. I do not cry when Roxane writes of rape, miscarriage, neglect, or ignorance. I cry when someone listens. When someone is patient. When someone draws a bath or lets a woman hide under the bed. When someone brushes her hair because she lacks the strength to do such a simple task. When what the woman needs is prioritized and the needs of others swallowed. When a woman has the courage to just say enough is enough and leave and someone helps and encourages her. It is so rare to see that it makes me weep with relief.

Roxane Gay insists in her stories that her women are never alone. I believe that if you can look past the tragedy you can see the real tragedy. We don’t listen to our women. We don’t see them. Even in the most mundane of circumstances, do you hear the women around you? Are they performing for your benefit or are you seeing the real person? What do they need? What is their greatest wish? What is their greatest fear? What do they absolutely despise? What hurts her? Do you know? Do you care?

So read this book, hold your breath through the horror, but find a way to find and emulate the supportive beams of light in each story. Women are strong. We can cope, survive, and escape. We’ve been doing it since the dawn of time. The larger point is that we don’t have to. Bravo, Roxane Gay, bravo. I cannot wait to read Hunger.


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