Difficult Women by Roxane Gay with a California Merlot

28818921 (1)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!

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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!

Laura

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The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal #1 and #2 by KJ Charles and some drinks…

Jordan L Hawk and KJ Charles, two very clever, and saucy ladies have hooked up to write  a story. Very exciting news indeed! They got two of their couples together for a London adventure. Simon Feximal and Robert Caldwell vs Whyborne and Griffin. Seriously I’m not one to SQUEE, but just the fact that these ladies collaborated on ANYTHING was exciting. Now, I must admit I had not read the Feximal and Caldwell stories until I heard Remnant was coming out. Whyborne and Griffin are awesome, and I LOVE KJ Charles, so naturally I read those up. Both stories were wonderful and I wanted to do a quick review of them before I posted my review for Remnant.

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For this post I decided to go with aperitifs, pre-dinner drinks. For Caldwell Ghost I chose an Artisanal hibiscus flower liqueur I discovered recently and is a current obsession. Sorel Liqueur is handcrafted in Brooklyn, New York. It is a sweet and spicy drink, with lots and lots of flavor. It is very exotic, and it has a darkness to it that just BEGS for a ghost story! Some of the flavors that will hit your tongue include, Brazilian clove, Indonesian cassia, Nigerian ginger, Indonesian nutmeg, Moroccan hibiscus. and Pure cane sugar.  If that list won’t get you curious, I don’t know what will! A bottle of Sorel is about $25.00 a bottle, but it is well worth. If you take it slow it can be enjoyed little by little for quite a while!

As for Butterflies, I wanted something a little more…sparkly, with a bitter edge. Campari and Soda with a twist of lime. This drink is mainstay for me when I host dinner parties. I always have it on hand to get my guests going. It’s delicious, different but definitely not for everyone. With Campari (as with Ms. Charles) it takes a knowing palate to appreciate that you are taking something truly special.

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About the books…If you have not read these two short stories The Caldwell Ghost and Butterflies, you REALLY REALLY should. They are both very fast reads, but they pack incredibly rich tales. KJ Charles really brings a sublime beauty to her horror stories. The way she constructs a scene is really something to admire. There is SO MUCH to enjoy in her stories. From the characters, to the imagery…The mysteries are so imaginative too.  In The Caldwell Ghost we meet Robert Caldwell, he is a young man who has inherited a house which is apparently haunted. He has secured the services of Simon Feximal, ghost hunter to take care of the problem. Mr. Feximal is a serious man, his business is clearly no laughing matter. As soon as Robert sets his eyes on Simon, he notices that the man is burly and delicious…Alas, there is not much time to socialize. The house is pissed off, and that ghost is coming for them…And when I say coming…I mean that in more ways than one! *ahem*

The second story Butterflies, which you can get free on Smashwords is in two words, horrifically beautiful. Some months after Simon and Robert’s very intense initial meeting, they end up together again, when they are both looking into two suspicious deaths in a village outside of London. Two bodies have been found in the woods, the strange part is that they were both covered by thousands of butterflies. So many butterflies of different species, colors, sizes. Where are they coming from? Something is obviously amiss, Simon and Robert set off together to uncover the mystery. They quickly discover that the a old local tale might be at the center of the problem. They also find out that there is a lot more to the connection they share than just a one night tryst.

This one was also short, but what a FABULOUS story. KJ build a beautiful tale bore the story Robert tells us.  I also really enjoy how she weaves the ghost hunting with the physical and emotional connection Simon and Robert share. I love Robert’s voice, the emotion in his tone when he talks about Simon, the excitement with which he recounts their adventures. His eyes are clear and loving, but the man has a knack for making the sordid VERY enjoyable, and humorous…Hey if you’re gonna have a talent.

I completely recommend these before moving on to Remnant. They are well worth it. The Caldwell Ghost is for sale here and Butterflies is available for download free on Smashwords.

Make sure to check back in tomorrow for my review of Remnant and the recipe for one of my FAVORITE mixed drinks ever. The Negroni. Talk about a winning combination!

Cheers and Happy Reading

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