Anything with Roxane Gay’s name on it is guaranteed to pique my interest.
Difficult Women is a collection of short stories that cover a wide range of modern women, from a woman pretending not to realize when her husband switches places with his twin brother to a stripper putting herself through college and fending off an obsessed customer.
And a number of the stories had me just floored by the raw emotion and chilling writing.
Here are a few of my favorites pieces:
I Will Follow You:
A fantastic opening to this collection. It follows two close sisters that don’t like to separate their ways. Where Carolina went, her sister followed.
“My sister was the only place that made any sense.”
We find out that the reason why they’re always together is that when the narrator was ten and her sister eleven they were abducted together for six weeks—the kidnapper later dumped them at a hospital near home.
“We were young once and then we weren’t.”
Reading this short story was an overwhelming emotional experience. The flashbacks to Mr. Peter – the kidnapper – was one of the scariest things I could read before going to bed. I had chills for hours after. Just typing in his name makes my stomach twist and my throat contract anew.
“Our parents asked Carolina why she jumped into the van instead of running for help. She said, “I couldn’t leave my sister alone.”
I needed a breather.
A black engineer – Kate – moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind.
Along the way, she meets plainspoken and honest Magnus and the rest is history.
“I remember the pressure of Magnus’s lips against mine, their texture and the smell of his bedsheets. I am in trouble.”
Literally me when I catch feelings…
I don’t know how Roxane Gay does it, but in a short amount of pages she managed to bring their relationship fully to life and also made me kind of fall for Magnus… he still seems to good to be true. Damn.
“I have a weakness for charming men who make witty comebacks.”
Plus, I really appreciated that Gay took the time to address both sexism and racism in the workplace.
Break All the Way Down:
This follows Natasha’s journey of mourning and grieving her baby boy, who was run over by a car right in front of her and her husband’s eyes.
The way Gay described that horrible moment made everything around me stop for a second.
“Ben and I screamed. Ben Jr. stopped and turned to look at us, was so startled by the pitch of our voices, he cried. The last thing my child did was cry because he was scared. He held his arms higher, the way he does, the way he did, when he wanted to be held. The curves between my thumbs and forefingers throbbed violently.
When the car ran him over, I did not look away. I saw what happened to my boy’s body. I saw everything, all of him, everywhere.”
Natasha way of grieving is to punish herself for not stopping the accident. Her kind but strong husband is patient and eventually tells her that she can’t keep going like this.
“Enough,” he said. “You’ve broken yourself enough. You’re coming home.”
It was such a raw and hauntingly powerful story on dealing with grief and forgiveness. I know for a fact that it’s going to stick in my mind for a very long time.
The Sacrifice of Darkness:
“Pretty isn’t always about what you see. Sometimes pretty is what you feel.”
A beautiful tale on living without light and making the most of a lifetime of darkness. When the narrator was a little girl her husband’s father flew an air machine into the sun. “Since then, the days have been dark, the nights bright.”
I sincerely love how we followed the two main characters from childhood to adulthood and then parenthood together. Such great characterization and I love their love.
“He told me he didn’t mind the silence of others so long as I was there to fill it.”
Roxane Gay has an incredible talent for writing fleshed-out relationships.
I cannot wait for Difficult Women to come out in January of 2017 so more people can read and revel at how utterly dark and fascinating and completely gripping this collection was. It was at times a difficult read but, without the merest hint of a shadow of a doubt, worthwhile.
ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.