I usually stick to romance novels on this blog, however I felt I needed to make an exception for the latest book of one of my favorite authors. Roxane Gay, has written a collection of short stories titled Difficult Women, many of the stories are anchored solidly in a love story (not necessarily romantic love perhaps, but a strong love nonetheless) so I thought it would not be a big departure from my usual to write some thoughts on it here.
In this collection of stories Ms. Gay explores love, lust, loss, abuse, grief, friendship, sex and gender among other themes, but mostly , principally she explores the female experience. Those of us who reach adulthood a little damaged, but certain of our worth, knowing we deserve more, this book is cathartic.
But before I get to the stories, let’s chat about the wine. I decided to go with a winery that has been very popular in my household lately that is the Dark Horse winery in California. I specially like their reds, and their Merlot is a star. It’s cheap, delicious and you don’t see it coming. Perfect with the dark and strong women in this book. Dark Horse is widely available and a bottle usually does not run for more than $9, a steal!
Back to the book. I have always relied on books as a major source of solace and connection. An author whose words make me feel like I am known, like there is someone else out there that “gets it” is incredibly powerful for me. When the characters and the words speak to your individual experience, there is nothing like it. That is what Roxane Gay’s writing does for me. Both her fiction and her non-fiction feel transcendental, they make me feel seen and understood.
The stories in this collection, all 20 of them, feature women who have been bruised, broken, and used. And yet they are known, they are seen by a lover, a friend, a sister, a stranger, they have made a connection that has kept them grounded to a world that has tried, but failed to fuck them over.
I think more than anything I am deeply moved by the way Roxane Gay explores the effects of trauma. She does not shy away from the ugliness of it, how it lingers, how the world is full of us, the walking wounded, with scars that cannot be seen yet coat us inside and out. With hurt, with shame, trying to fuel our self-destruction, and yet we are out there loving, laughing, feeling, touching and opening ourselves up for more. Rising above, beating the odds, taking what is rightly ours.
The difficult women in Roxane’s stories, are women falling into love, falling out of love, grieving, searching for a purpose, looking for connection, and many other things. There is always a touchstone in each story, a connections that brings them back to the surface, that grounds them to who they are and their own worth. Broken yes, but put together, living. I loved every single one of these stories profoundly, but I will just write my thoughts on the ones that stuck with me the most:
I Will Follow You. This story touches on the ugliness of trauma in a very unique way. In my profession I work with survivors of trauma, specifically those who have experienced the kind of trauma that the characters in this story have, and I usually cringe when I read how badly authors botch stories of people who have to live with that kind of pain. Roxane got this right, this story is painful and muted, but it is also stubborn and strong. Trauma survivors WILL LIVE, even if it’s in the pain of what has been done to them. I loved the bond in the sisters, a little twisted, yes, but so is the world, and they did what they had to for each other.
North Country. This is pure romance. An erotic, sweeping, sweaty, life giving, life changing full fledged romance. Honestly if this was the kind of romance novel between men and women that was being written, I would have probably not given hetero romance up for LGBT romance.
La Negra Blanca. A clear eyed look at the construct of race and how it runs through the very core of this country and how it functions. Brilliant.
Requiem for A Glass Heart. I’m just going to put the first line of the story here…”The stone thrower lives in a glass house, with his glass family.”…Yep.
Break All the Way Down. The pain in this story is SO DEEP, so guttural, it was hard to not weep for this woman, and yet she saved herself, and she kept walking.
Noble Things. This is full on prophetic, and almost a bit frightening, and again Roxane Gay gets at the true wickedness that lives in this country, like no one I’ve read in a long time.
If there was a theme for this book, I think I would say courageous, just so very brave. Because to be a woman in society, it is to be a survivor. We who demand what we deserve, are without exception made to pay for our hubris, but we say fuck that, we say what place we belong in, and we are willing to do what it takes to claim it.
Don’t walk, but run to read this new Roxane Gay book if you haven’t, and if she is a new name to you, start with Bad Feminist, and just keep going.
Cheers and Happy Reading!
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