“Difficult Women”, Roxane Gay’s new short story collection, in lists

The cool stuff

The title It’s the same formula Gay used with Bad Feminist: two words, a mountain of connotations. I especially like how this titles evokes a patriarchal definition, only to let it die of neglect page after page. Because of course, there are no “difficult women” in this book, or at least not in the sexist sense.  They’re just people going through life amidst injustices and trauma. Not strong or weak, not good or bad, just human. And that’s enough.

This prophetic quote “Parker explained that once, there was an election, and small-minded people couldn’t handle the man who won and then there was anger and then there were petitions and then terrible decisions were made-demands for secession, refusals from Washington, rising tensions, a war to bring secession about, the wall erected, everything going to hell on only one side of the wall, dulling whatever victory was to be had. It all happened so fast it hardly seemed real, until the war began and it was too real and then the war ended and nothing had been saved, which was always the case when foolish men made foolish, prideful decisions.”

Wow. Gay wrote this before the election, so “the man who won” can’t be the man who actually won (and in the context of the story “the man who won” seems to be of opposite political leanings anyway), so this quote isn’t a clear analogy. Instead, it comes across to me as a warning against the stubborness on both sides. Wow.

The different genres “The Sacrifice of Darkness” and “Noble Things” are Gay’s first forays into sci-fi and speculative fiction that I know of, and they’re more than solid. “The Sacrifice of Darkness” in particular struck me as a great success – it infuses new life into the themes of discrimination, isolation and abuse that underlie the collection.


The seriously disturbing stuff

Rape So much rape it becomes routine. Not that it shouldn’t be represented as routine in our fucked-up world, but my God. Brace yourselves.

Dead babies yay…

The first story, “I Will Follow You”  It’s expected that the first story in a collection will be striking, but this one is more like a bludgeon to the head. Welcome to the book! Let’s start with…paedophilia-related trauma! The story might actually set the bar a bit too high in terms of intensity; I kept hoping for something as potent to pop up again, but none of the subsequent stories quite measure up (although a few come close).

Racism Pervasive, casual, and then suddenly laid bare in all its absolute repugnance. See: “La Negra Blanca” (another promising title). Make sure you have a toilet or bucket close by.

The random, but nonetheless recurrent, stuff

Venison Loads of it. And live deer, too. shrugs I don’t know, I’m just telling you: there’s a lot of venison.

Guys who won’t let their girlfriends shower after fucking them Is that a thing? Because it’s a great metaphor in a book, but if you tell me it’s common in real life I might puke.

It’s a thing, isn’t it? Oh for fuck’s sake.


Difficult Women was published today, and you can purchase it from Foyles, or with the retailer of your choice. Thanks to Corsair for the proof copy.

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