Difficult Women - Roxane Gay
This book is pretty fantastic on the whole even though it routinely tore my heart out. The epigraph is among my favorites:
"For difficult women, who should be celebrated for their very nature."
The theme of difficult women was well represented and I loved all these women, specifically for their flaws. Most of them are broken somehow and it is this part of the theme that I feel is way too underrated in modern writing. Many of these women lead difficult lives and many of the circumstances in the stories were likewise difficult. This is not a book about prima donnas or women that give men a hard time for kicks. It's not a book about women who generally have it easy but dare to complain about this or that discomfort. They are difficult. Life is difficult.
I don't want to sound cliche about it, but they are the real women of the world, the women with all their baggage from dealing with the hardships of life, the realities of life that isn't a sitcom or a romcom. Life can be tragic and it's this aspect of it that we sometimes fail to showcase in literature because we'd rather everything be larger than life with problems that seem great but that everyone will essentially survive in the end. It is when people write women like this that literature takes a turn for the far more interesting for me and I have a feeling I'm not the only one who feels that way. It's a book for anyone who ever enjoyed Kindred or Antigone or Madame Bovary, which all had difficult women.
The writing in each is amazing and there was one that I couldn't finish because it was a triggering about a personal event. You'll see which later. I don't do well with some stories about child deaths. I can get through some, but others bring me back to a place that it isn't worth going for me. Similarly, if you are triggered by sexual assault or rape or abusive relationships, don't read this book.
While I'll easily recommend the book as a whole to anyone else, here are some notes on the individual stories:
I Will Follow You - beautifully heartbreaking in a way that makes me feel like women can get through anything, particularly when we have another woman to stick with.
Water, All Its Weight - strange and sad, the imagery is great and there is an undercurrent that keeps the fantasy side from running away with the idea of how anything could weigh you down.
The Mark of Cain - unusual but it was great to see a switch on the typical way this kind of story is written.
Difficult Women - the format is a little unusual, but this is something I do when I see women that others call difficult
FLORIDA - again with a different unusual format but along the same lines as the last, making stories for people we see everyday
Le Negra Blanca - this one just infuriates me. it's all of the problems of women, particularly women of color, and the way society looks at us wrapped into one story
Baby Arm - this is easily my favorite! It's weird and gory and I could never imagine being at this best friend level but it's intriguing nonetheless.
North Country - this is a welcome reprieve after some of the others but complete with it's own issues
How - the format is a little strange because it's laid out in a how-did-this-happen kind of way that helped that story along despite that it was just sad in that way that brings you down but doesn't break your heart.
Requiem for a Glass Heart - beautiful imagery for some of life's problems.
In the Event of My Father's Death - I just appreciate that this one exists in all it's messiness, not because I particularly like any character but that I know they are out there and should be written about too.
Break All the Way Down - this is the one I couldn't finish. It seemed written as well as the others but was tearing me down.
Bad Priest - more fun than I anticipated though horribly irreverent and sacreligious in a way would be delightful if I wasn't a Christian. Still kinda fun to read though.
Open Marriage - adorable
A Pat - I wasn't entirely sure what to make of the story part but it has a sentiment that I can totally get with.
Best Features - another story that's sad but not unusual in the world of women
Bone Density - sometimes marriages work in the strangest of ways. I've heard of some women making it work just like this.
I Am a Knife - this one totally grossed me out over and over again.
The Sacrifice of Darkness - I really like this one, it was odd but uplifting overall
Noble Things - this one had to be a crazy exercise in imagining just how the country may eventually fall apart and just what the fallout would look like. Their struggles weren't all that unusual, just the setting
Strange Gods - the worst of the heartbreak was here. I think it's because I had already read Bad Feminist and I had a feeling where some of this was going.
Many of the scenarios in the stories weren't beyond my ability to imagine. Some are the very worst of the female experience, the things that makes us fear walking the streets alone at night but sometimes more afraid of trusting some men enough to take them with us. Others were just sad because, like men, we can get stuck in lives we never intended to live. There were also those few that were either uplifting or adorable or fun. I'd be willing to watch a movie that expands on the idea of Baby Arm, Noble Things, Bad Priest or The Sacrifice of Darkness.
Overall, Gay is right. Difficult women do need to be celebrated more. Fortunately, I think we've started to do that more in our media. We've gotten some television shows in recent years that have started to pay more attention to us and I've been really enjoying it. I hope it continues and we find more difficult women to celebrate.