Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Difficult Women

by Roxane Gay

A powerhouse collection of stories from the New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay, Difficult Women provides a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 320
  • Publication Date November 14, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2737-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $17.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 272
  • Publication Date January 03, 2017
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2539-2
  • Dimensions 5" x 5"
  • US List Price $25.00

About The Book

Award-winning author and livewire talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with the widely acclaimed novel An Untamed State and the New York Times bestselling essay collection Bad Feminist (Harper Perennial). Gay returns with Difficult Women, a collection of stories of rare force and beauty, of hardscrabble lives, passionate loves, and quirky and vexed human connection.

The women in these stories live lives of privilege and of poverty, are in marriages both loving and haunted by past crimes or emotional blackmail. A pair of sisters, grown now, have been inseparable ever since they were abducted together as children and must negotiate the elder sister’s marriage. A woman married to a twin pretends not to realize when her husband and his brother impersonate each other. A stripper putting herself through college fends off the advances of an overzealous customer. A black engineer moves to Upper Michigan for a job and faces the malign curiosity of her colleagues and the difficulty of leaving her past behind. From a girls’ fight club to a wealthy subdivision in Florida where neighbors conform, compete, and spy on each other, Gay gives voice to a chorus of unforgettable women in a scintillating collection reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.


“The characters who inhabit Difficult Women . . . aren’t just characters. They are our mothers, sisters and partners. They are human. They are us . . . Gay manages to capture entire lifetimes, painstakingly sketching women, the underlying drives that give them their shape and the indignities that color the lenses through which they see the world. Gay’s style isn’t paint-by-numbers, either. It’s pointillism—and details such as race, class and sexuality are not missed. Gay has a deft touch with how those intersecting identities mold and shape women’s experiences . . . These are real stories about real experiences and women seeking, deserving happy endings. They aren’t victims but survivors. Gay makes mosaics out of these women, seeing them as perfectly imperfect wholes in a world that routinely tries to break them down to pieces.” —Jaleesa M. Jones, USA Today (4/4 stars)

“Gay has fun with these ladies. Her narrative games aren’t rulesy. She plays with structure and pacing . . . She moves easily from first to third person, sometimes within a single story. She creates worlds that are firmly realist and worlds that are fantastically far-fetched . . . With Difficult Women, you really have no idea what’s going to happen next.” —Gemma Sieff, New York Times Book Review

“Gay is a renowned cultural critic and woman of ideas—and the real gift to readers in Difficult Women is her ability to marry her well-known intellectual concerns with good storytelling . . . Her restrained and forthright style allows her to write sensual scenes with efficacy, grit and authority . . . Gay excels in her allowance for human complexity . . . One of the book’s greatest achievements is Gay’s psychological acuity in the creation of female characters who are teeming with dissonance and appealing self-awareness . . . In a dark and modern way, this collection celebrates the post-traumatic enlightenment of women.” —Megan Mayhew Bergman, Washington Post

“In these bittersweet lives, Gay finds fierce tenacity that bends but doesn’t always break . . . Her writing is unfussy, well matched to the women and men she’s created, and she finds a distinct rhythm both elegant and plainspoken . . . Because Gay is such a vivid writer, her stories have a remarkable visual sweep. She puts her readers there . . . Gay’s women are complicated, broken in places, and misdirected . . . In Difficult Women, Gay gives these often-overlooked lives color and meaning. From a ramshackle Michigan trailer park to the affluence and ennui of a gated community in Florida—and myriad points in between—Gay writes of chances missed and unexpected joy, love gone awry or resurrected, and the slivers of hope that keep these fascinating women alive.” —Renee Graham, Boston Globe

“Gay’s signature dry wit and piercing psychological depth make every story mesmerizingly unusual and simply unforgettable.” —Lauren Christensen, Harper Bazaar

“The stories, phenomenally powerful and beautifully written, demonstrate the threats so many women in reality face, but also how, whatever their situation, they have agency, resilience and identities away from stereotypes created and reinforced by men.” —Claire Kohda Hazelton, The Guardian (UK)

“This collection begs for a slow, serious reading.” —Josh Cook, Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Gay expands her writing prowess with this collection featuring colorful women protagonists . . . Refreshing yet intricate . . . This work will appeal to lovers of literary and feminist fiction.” —Ashanti White, Library Journal (starred review)

“Gay brings the powerful voice that flows through her work as a novelist and cultural critic to the 21 short stories in her first collection . . . Gay’s Difficult Women are unforgettable.” —Jane Ciabattari, BBC.com

“Gay tells intimate, deep, wry tales of jaggedly dimensional women . . . Be they writer, scientist, or stripper, Gay’s women suffer grave abuses, mourn unfathomable losses, love hard, and work harder.” —Annie Bostrom, Booklist

“A powerful collection of short stories about difficult, troubled, headstrong, and unconventional women . . . Whether focusing on assault survivors, single mothers, or women who drown their guilt in wine and bad boyfriends, Gay’s fantastic collection is challenging, quirky, and memorable.” —Publishers Weekly

“A new book by Roxane Gay – could there be any better news? In her new book, Gay delivers a collection of short stories that will make your spine tingle with intrigue.” —Melissa Ragsdale, Bustle.com (“17 of January 2017’s Best Fiction Books to Bring an Electrifying Start to Your New Year”)

“You can’t just use words like ‘great’ or ‘amazing’ to describe this story collection. I settled on astonishing, arresting, and staggering.” —Jessica Woodbury, Book Riot

“Unified in theme–the struggles of women claiming independence for themselves—but wide-ranging in conception and form . . . Gay is an admirable risk-taker in her exploration of women’s lives and new ways to tell their stories.” —Kirkus Reviews


My sister decided we had to go see her estranged husband in Reno. When she told me, I was in a mood. I said, “What does that have to do with me?”

Carolina married when she was nineteen. Darryl, her husband, was a decade older but he had a full head of hair and she thought that meant something. They lived with us for the first year. My mom called it getting on their feet but they spent most of their time in bed so I assumed getting on their feet was a euphemism for sex. When they finally moved out, Carolina and Darryl lived in a crappy apartment with pea green wallpaper and a balcony where the railing was loose like a rotting tooth. I’d visit them after my classes at the local university. Carolina usually wasn’t home from her volunteer job yet so I’d wait for her and watch television and drink warm beer while Darryl, who couldn’t seem to find work, stared at me, telling me I was a pretty girl.

When I told my sister she laughed and shook her head. She said, “There’s not much you can do with men but he won’t mess with you, I promise.”


Winner of the Black Caucus of the American Library Association Fiction Award
Longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize
Longlisted for The Story Prize
Nominated for the Bookish Award for Best Short Story or Essay Collection