Let me be clear: I love short story collections. When done well, short stories can hold great literary (and personal) value to me. Most collections have a few stories that aren't on par with the rest and one or two stellar stories. Difficult Women is not like this. Each story feels real, often magical, but always tangible. Some are allegories, some are simply insightful, while others are brimming with emotion--and they are all excellent.
It is ovbious that Gay is using the female experience as her focuse of this collection--something that she has successfully drawn upon in the past with her essay collection, Bad Feminist. Her stories explore self-realization, sexuality, hope, relationships in romantic and familial states, birth, and death. They're full of both mundane moments and magical ones. Her characters are unflinchingly real. They are flawed, have desires, shames, secrets, and one's father-in-law destroyed the sun and plunged the earth into a darkness that matched his heart. One woman is even perpetually followed by a rain cloud.
In short, they're difficult women. Their emotions and actions don't operate within societal standards. In Hollywood, we see these women as witches, whores, and failed mothers. We see them as drug addicts, mistresses, and screeching soccer moms. Gay turns that trope on its head and explores women, in all their unique beauty and dysfunctionality, as individual persons worthy of exposition. And she executes this skillfully. Her words flow off the page while each story leaves you craving for the next one.
My favorites were: "I Am A Knife", "The Sacrifice of Darkness", "Baby Arm", and "Open Marriage".
Read if you loved: Bad Feminist & An Untamed State (both by Gay), A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel, and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!
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Mary Prewitt: Owner, Ruthless Reader