This week’s New Title Tuesday selection is both dark and hopeful. Very much as the title suggests, there are few topics that Roxane Gay shies away from in her new short story collection Difficult Women.
Publisher’s Summary: Award-winning author and live-wire talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with the widely acclaimed novel An Untamed State and the New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.
The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children and must negotiate the elder sister’s marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay gives voice to a chorus of unforgettable women in a scintillating collection reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.
As Roxane Gay said in her NPR interview, Difficult Women could easily have been titled Difficult Men. “I love exploring that sort of danger of who do you trust, who do you turn to when you never know who’s a predator and who is promising?” Gay explained. She also enjoys her friendships with other women, and said, “I have found so much solace and joy and debauchery with other women. And so I definitely wanted to put that into the book, that – for me at least, the way I see the world – that women are very good to other women most of the time.”
In addition to exploring the relationships between men and women and female friendships, the author also explores structure and perspective. Gemma Sieff described Gay’s style in her New York Times review of Difficult Women:
“Her narrative games aren’t rulesy. She plays with structure and pacing, breaking up some stories with internal chapterlets, writing long (upward of 20 pages) and very short (under two pages). She moves easily from first to third person, sometimes within a single story. She creates worlds that are firmly realist and worlds that are fantastically far-fetched — there is a wife who is dogged by water, as if under a personal rain cloud, and a wife who is made of glass.”
Full disclosure, some of the themes and actions are uncomfortable and not for all readers. Through the use of magical realism, awful things happen to babies. Rape and violence are explicit but not gratuitous. “We glimpse the slights and economic hardships these women endure and see how emotional damage manifests itself into hardened personalities and complicated relationships. We come to understand why a woman might choose being “difficult” over a life spent being appealing,” wrote Megan Mayhew Bergman for the Washington Post.
With Gay’s contemporary views on gender, ethnicity, race, and class, Difficult Women gives voice to a wide spectrum of real women.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
More by Roxane Gay:
Bad Feminist – A collection of essays spanning politics, criticism, and feminism from one of the most-watched young cultural observers of her generation, Roxane Gay. “Pink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink, all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.” In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django in Chains) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture. Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.
An Untamed State – Mireille Duval Jameson is a rich and self-assured Haitian woman who is kidnapped by a gang of heavily armed men. Held captive by a man who calls himself the Commander, Mireille must endure his torment until her unwilling father pays up.
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What it Means When A Man Falls From the Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah – A dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.
In “Who Will Greet You at Home,” a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, A woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions.
Evocative, playful, subversive, and incredibly human, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky heralds the arrival of a prodigious talent with a remarkable career ahead of her.