Last year, I made a goal to finish fifty books by the end of 2016. I love to read, but it is usually one of the first things that goes onto the back burner when life gets busy, and there’s nothing like a good challenge to push me through. At the beginning of this year, I made the same goal: fifty books by the end of 2017.
So, here’s my first book of 2017: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay.
Oh, Roxane Gay. I have an unending, burning love for her.
A few years ago, when I was visiting St. Louis, my mother-in-law invited me to a reading and book signing with her friends. I’d never heard of the author, but the premise of the book sounded interesting: an essay collection examining the idea that feminism isn’t always perfect, but it doesn’t have to be in order to effect change. The author turned out to be Roxane Gay, who was on her book tour promoting Bad Feminist. Within minutes of hearing her speak, I was a fan. When I heard she was publishing another book—this time a collection of fictional short stories—I started counting down the days until its release on January 3, 2017. Difficult Women came out just in time for it to become my first book of 2017.
The stories in Difficult Women are dark. They’re about the hardships many women face each day, be it loneliness, grief, longing, and, in more than one story, violence. As noted by The L.A. Times, “It is a book about the violence done to women and the violence of being a woman.” Her writing is sharp and the characters are complex. The stories touched me deeply; it felt like I knew each of the characters Gay introduced to her readers, and it made reading the book an intimate experience. The stories are quirky and reminded me ever so slightly of The First Bad Man by Miranda July.
My favourite line from Difficult Women: “She was smart enough to want more but tired enough to accept the way things were.”
On women being “difficult”: “I think women are sometimes termed ‘difficult’ when we want too much, when we ask for too much, when we think too highly of ourselves, or have any kind of standards… I wanted to play with this idea that women are difficult, when in reality it’s generally the people around them who are the difficult ones.”
On diversity, whiteness, and representation: “Diversity in literature is, in part, about representation– who is telling the stories and who stories are told about. People of colour are not under any kidn of obligation beyond working hard, doing their best, and learning from their mistakes. It is deeply unfair to task writers of colour with unique responsibilities that we don’t assign to all writers. As for the race of my characters, why do you think their race isn’t easily discernible? Probably because you assume, like most people, that whiteness is the default. Let me be clear- whiteness is not the default in my fiction.”
On being labeled as a difficult woman: “If having a personality and having opinions makes me difficult, then yes, I am very difficult.”