For avid readers, the advent of the Kindle was a godsend. It allowed them to expand their personal libraries as much as they wanted without worrying about taking up too much space. Along with increasing the potential for library depth, the kindle has also allowed for a more diverse reading taste. You can now take risks on books that you previously wouldn’t have due to the Kindle eliminating space and time requirements.
You should take full advantage of this increased diversity the Kindle provides. I have fallen in love with writers I would have never previously given a chance to thanks to the Kindle. Roxane Gay is one of those writers. Gay is one of the top rising literary talents on the scene, making a name for herself by writing fierce nonfiction essays that cover our time’s most relevant social issues: femininity, body image, race.
While Gay is known for her nonfiction, she recently published a collection of short fiction titled Difficult Women. I decided to give the collection a chance, and downloaded it to my Kindle. I was pleasantly surprised, as Difficult Women still includes the relevant social issues Gay is famous for covering, while also showing off her talent for literary fiction.
Difficult Women is filled with themes of femininity and racial identity, toxic relationships, and body image told from first, second, and third person narrators. Gay’s ability to believably employ this range of fictional narrators gave me a newfound respect for her literary chops; I no longer view her as an essayist, but a storyteller with just as much style and skill as unique perspective and relevant voice.
“I Will Follow You,” the collection’s first story, is a first-person account of the bond twins Carolina and Savie form after surviving a traumatic past. Gay is able to adopt the perspective of a Savie with a convincing authenticity. There was not a moment in the story where a questionable character decision removed me from the story’s immersion.
The main narrative of “I Will Follow You” follows Savie as she moves to Nevada with her sister. As the story progresses, Savie recalls memories that serve to explain her inseparable bond with her sister. The reveal, that Savie and Caroline where abducted and raped as children, is shocking in its impact and authenticity. It forces you to realize the lasting, formative effects that trauma and abuse can have.
While the topic matter is challenging, Gay handles it in a manner that allows readers to form sympathy and understanding without pulling away from the traumatic details of the narrative. I believe this is due to Gay’s excellent pacing, as readers are given a chance to invest in the character’s personalities and lives before experiencing the jarring events of their past. With “I Will Follow You,” Gay demonstrates her ability to use traditional literary devices, such as pacing and character development, to handle difficult subject matter in a responsible, authentic manner.
“How” is a third person narrative following the struggles of the protagonist, Hannah, is facing with her family life. Hannah deals with a loveless marriage, an alcoholic father, and an estranged mother. Her many hardships makes her question her life decisions, and the only relief she gets comes in the form of her best friend, Laura, and her twin sister, Anna. As the narrative progresses, Hannah comes to realize, in attempts to keep her family together, that she has neglected her own needs and desires. The story climaxes when Hannah comes to an unexpected realization regarding her sexuality.
While this story also features a twin dynamic and explores similar themes of abuse, the experience of reading it is completely different than “I Will Follow You.” Again, this can be credited to Gay’s excellent pacing, her unique character building, and her fearlessness in exploring difficult themes.
The pacing of “How” is aided by its nonlinear format. Instead of using personal reflection to achieve flashbacks, Gay uses subtitles like How Hannah Finally Confronts Her Mother to move the story along. This unique approach to narrative structure and pacing shows Gay’s willingness to not only take risks in theme, but in form and style as well. Her unique, nonlinear pacing device is well executed, and it results in a powerful reading experience.
Character building is perhaps the strongest feature of “How.” Hannah is a complex character, as she makes sacrifices to demonstrate her compassion, but is portrayed cheating on her husband. With the complex portrayal, Gay demonstrates her ability to present her protagonists as flawed, realistic humans instead of flat, one dimensional heroines. This portrayal allows readers to relate and form sympathy for Hannah, while also realizing that she makes mistakes.
In “How,” Gay explores themes of sexuality, family, and abuse. While these themes occur throughout Difficult Women, they never read as repetitive or contrived. This is due to Gay’s decision to explore different aspects, and show the many results that these themes can produce. For example, “How” portrays Hannah as compassionate, trusting, yet fiercely independent and somewhat selfish in the face of abuse. It does not try to deny a survivor’s capacity to do harmful things; instead, choosing to show their ability to overcome and live with the person they become due to the abuse. Gay’s thematic exploration in “How” shows why she has inserted herself in all major literary discussions today.
Difficult Women demonstrates Gay at her best: thematically challenging and stylistically explorative. While it is a venture from the nonfiction that earned her a reputation, Difficult Women is well worth the investment. If you are looking to add a relevant, modern voice to your Kindle collection, Difficult Women is the book for you. It is an impactful read that will leave you disgusted at the evils of the world and hopeful about humanity’s ability to overcome.
Get Roxane Gay – Difficult Women for Kindle.