Roxane Gay’s new collection of short stories arrives with much anticipation. With her debut novel, An Untamed State, and essay collection, Bad Feminist, Gay has established herself as a strong contender in the literary world.
Her newest work displays this strength. The writing is clean and incisive. Gay uses deceptively simple turns of phrases to weave complex characters, and their equally complex worlds. The stories are dense with the pain and rawness of life. I found it trying at times to make my way through them. Often, I felt like I needed a break between stories, in order to absorb what I’d just read, and mull over the characters’ trials.
The women in her stories all live difficult lives. Much is expected of them. Much is taken from them. They are women who don’t fit neatly into the roles that the world forces on them, who end up hurting themselves in the process of trying to carve out new roles for themselves.
There is much to glean from this collection. The stories are a mixture of the realistic and the fantastical. It all starts off with a powerful story of sisterly love, their shared trauma from a young age cementing their bond, and making it impossible for the one to live without the other. Then, there is the story about a woman who is haunted by the presence of water since birth: mould grows in the corners of her house, rain clouds trail in her wake. There is the woman who is made of glass, living in a glass house with her glass son, and a husband too smitten and oblivious to understand her.
This is not a collection I enjoyed, but it is one I appreciated. Personally, I don’t believe enjoyment was Gay’s intention for this book. These are difficult stories. They’re for readers to appreciate, to understand, and to analyse. These are stories that reflect the world. They act as a mirror with which we can examine ourselves and our treatment of others.