By Kimmie Semiday
On Jan. 3, “Bad Feminist” author Roxane Gay graced book shelves and readers across the nation with a fiction collection of short stories that centered around one theme: “Difficult Women.”
Like most of Gay’s writing, she is brutally honest about the drawbacks and limitations of being a woman in a patriarchal society, and she doesn’t shy away from that honesty in this collection. Each story centers around women from various walks of life, reflecting on how dynamic and different each woman is in society.
“Difficult Women” begins on a tragically high note with the short story “I Will Follow You,” which centers around two sisters that were kidnapped as children and therefore develop a co-dependent relationship as they enter adulthood. It is followed by “The Mark of Cain,” which follows a set of twins Caleb and Jacob, who trade places hoping their significant others do not know.
Every story is well thought out and beautifully written, packing a powerful punch with their varying messages. All of the women depicted in the stories have dealt with some form of underlying trauma or adversity making them relatable and multi-dimensional to the reader.
While some of Gay’s stories are more powerful than others, each piece of writing evokes raw emotion causing the reader to become invested in the lives of the people on the page. This book shines with stories like “Requiem for a Glass Heart,” which is written as a short story but reads like a long poem, and “The Sacrifice of Darkness” that uses intricate symbols to allude to the main subject of suicide.
It is clear with the attention to detail laced into each page of this book that this is not a collection that was thrown together in the wake of the successful best seller, “Bad Feminist,” but would easily be successful without Gay’s notoriety. It also shows readers that Gay is more than a single-hat essayist and can shine as a creative writer.
However, it should be noted that because of Gay’s unapologetically truthful writing, there are triggers for those who decide to delve into this collection. Most of the stories have characters with self-esteem or body issues, and many of them deal with situations that involve date or associate rape. In these instances Gay doesn’t dance around the topic but instead goes into immense detail outlining the various abuse.
Because of this, readers should proceed with caution if he or she has specific triggers relating to mental health or abuse. Contrary to popular belief, the collection does give a voice to men in society, making it inclusive for everyone and not just to those that consider themselves feminists.
Although it can be argued that Gay’s characters are the extreme in the stereotype of difficult women, it should be recognized that the author’s willingness to make her characters so believable and heartbreaking are what make the book such a stunning success.
Overall, “Difficult Women” is truly unlike anything currently on the market, giving a fresh voice to readers who are interested in trying something new, raw and out of the box.