Review: Difficult Women

Review for "Difficult Women" by Roxane Gay (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Lemme say this first: I love Roxane Gay. She’s a fearless writer, and has a great sense of humor on social media. I liked her collection of essays, Bad Feminist, and her novel, An Untamed State, was nothing short of sensational. When I got approved to read her latest book of short stories through NetGalley, I was absolutely thrilled.

Needless to say, this collection of stories is ummm…well, less than thrilling.

This book is hard to quantify. There are a lot of stories here (twenty-one, to be exact) and they range in length from a couple of pages to over twenty. Some of the stories use fantasy and elements of magical realism, others skip all of that and are very much rooted in reality. There are a lot of recurring themes in this book, many of which were highly disturbing to read about. For one, there is a lot of occurrences of rape in this book. A lot. Physical abuse and masochism are also prominent–scenes of not just women being arbitrarily beaten by the men in their lives, but women characters who actually want to be beaten, raped, abused, punished. It’s bizarre. And it’s in story after story here. After a while it just gets exhausting, but perhaps that was the whole point. I didn’t like it.

More prominent themes: the relationship between twins (male and female), siblings, desolate surroundings, interracial relationships, loss. There’s also a lot of sex. I repeat, a lot of sex. Just about every story has some pretty graphic sex content. Not that I care, but damn, Roxane, I didn’t think you rolled like that…lol.

I won’t go through all of the stories here but I will say that “I Will Follow You,” “Difficult Women,” and “Strange Gods” were probably my top three faves. Overall, this is three stars for me because I just found the themes and the characters far too bleak for me to connect with it. I didn’t care so much for the content as I would like to hear the conversation that will probably come up in circles who read this book. Either way, I’ll continue to read Ms. Roxane Gay, she’s definitely a talent to be reckoned with.

[Note: A free digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Grove Atlantic, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: An Untamed State

Review for “An Untamed State” by Roxane Gay

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

This book really touched me. After finishing it I lay awake for several hours, just thinking about the raw reality of it over and over.. Very few books have the power to do that to me, and Roxane Gay is a sensational writer that captures your emotions with her first novel.

It goes without mentioning that this was not an easy read. It’s one of those books that you read for a while, take a breather, and, if you can stomach it, you dive in and take another plunge. I read this book in about four sittings, partly to get the suspense over with and partly to just end it–the terror, the waiting, the feeling like you are stuck in a cage and can’t breathe. You are fully there with Mirielle as she is kidnapped by armed men in on a visit to her native Port-au-Prince and held captive for thirteen days. What takes place over those thirteen days are some of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever read. Mirielle is beaten, raped repeatedly, and tortured by her kidnappers after her wealthy father refuses to pay her ransom in some of the most cruelest ways imaginable. The disturbing content of this book could have easily allowed the author to venture down the “torture porn” route–lots of unnecessary, graphic details of violence, rape, and/or abuse that does nothing to develop character but only serves to shock an audience–but thankfully, Ms. Gay doesn’t go there. She does describe what happens to Mirielle in vivid detail at first but after that, manages to hint at specific incidents. I want to thank her for this, because without some kind of restraint on the part of the author I don’t think I would have been able to finish this book. 

Interspersed throughout Mirielle’s harrowing ordeal are flashbacks of Mirielle’s life with her family, her husband, and her career. At times the flashbacks were a wee bit long and unfocused, but, all in all, completely necessary for the story. Mirielle is a complex character, and the second half of the book deals with her life after the kidnapping. The writing here is a lot sharper, which I liked. Mirielle’s struggle to regain some semblance of normalcy is realistic and honest, and Gay doesn’t flinch from the jagged terrain of her recovery. Eventually one person is able to reach Mirielle, and it’s not who you expect. All in all, it added a very nice twist.

Roxane Gay dedicates his novel “to all women” and this dedication is fittingly appropriate, as this book lays bare the plight of women and their struggles. Not a pretty read, but a necessary one. Loved this!