Difficult Women is aptly named as it gives vignettes about a bunch of difficult women. Either women put in difficult situations, or complicated women, or a mix of both. There are few what I would consider stories, but it's more a glimpse into the lives of many different women. There are a few themes throughout the work. There's a lot of sex (I think in every story). Many of the stories deal with rape and there are a few stories about child abuse (so quick warnings to people who may want to pick this up. Nothing is too explicit and it doesn't feel gratuitous but it is rough). There are unhealthy relationships. A number of the stories take place in Michigan. There's a few about professors. Siblings and especially twins come up a few times.
There's not much in the way of plot in any of the stories. Nothing necessarily happens. Mostly it's a quick look at the lives these women lead. My favorite story, "Difficult Women", is even more a collection of vignettes of different types of women. Loose Women and Frigid Women and Crazy Women, what they do and how they act and why they are.
I loved "Florida" too, which followed "Difficult Women" and again, gives us vignettes about a number of different people although instead of female archetypes its different people in and around a gated community in Florida. Some are the wealthy women who have lived within the community for years, others are newcomers trying to figure out where or if they fit in here, and others are women who interact with the women of this community but are on the outside. This also included one of my favorite parts in the collection
"Por favor, Caridad," they said, "no mas." The ladies in her classes loved to speak to Caridad in broken Spanish, to show her they were comfortable with her ethnicity despite the paleness of their skin and the wealth of their husbands. Each morning before work, Caridad stared at her reflection in the mirror and practiced not rolling her eyes so she could smile politely at the ladies in her classes.The story "North Country" is probably the most like an actual full short story. A woman has recently gotten a position at an engineering college in the Upper Peninsula and she's trying to find her place both in this new landscape as well as in a department where she is not only the sole woman but the only black person (everyone assumes she's from Detroit). She meets a lumberjack but has trouble opening herself up to a relationship, sabotaging things at every possible step.
There are a few stories that are on the stranger side of things, like the woman who is married to a man who is an identical twin and the men switch places every once in awhile. There's another story of a woman married to a sweet man who loves her but she also has a boyfriend (that the husband knows about) who physically abuses her. Someone she stays with because she feels she deserves the punishment.
A couple other quotes I highlighted
We were young once and then we weren't.
She tries to walk not too fast and not too slow. She doesn't want to attract any attention. She pretends she doesn't hear the whistles and catcalls and lewd comments. Sometimes she forgets and leaves her house in a skirt or a tank top because its a warm day and she wants to feel warm air on her bare skin. Before long, she remembers.
Parker stared at his plate, cleared his throat softly, wondered when he became the kind of man who looked down instead of standing up.This is not necessarily a collection I will find myself returning too. The stories have a beauty to them and writing is wonderful, but they can also be difficult to face.
Roxane Gay on Twitter, especially when she's live tweeting House Hunters, you are missing out.
Title quote from location 2430
Gay, Roxane. Difficult Women. Grove Press, 2017. NetGalley.