Tag: feminism

Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay

Difficult Women by Roxanne GayDifficult Women by Roxanne Gay
Published by Grove Press on January 3rd 2017
Genres: Short Stories
Pages: 260
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads
four-stars

Award-winning author and powerhouse talent Roxane Gay burst onto the scene with An Untamed State—which earned rave reviews and was selected as one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post, NPR, the Boston Globe, and Kirkus—and her 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 marriage of one of them. 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 delivers a wry, beautiful, haunting vision of modern America reminiscent of Merritt Tierce, Jamie Quatro, and Miranda July.

I honestly didn’t like some of the stories which is why I ended up giving this collection as a whole 4 stars. Gay writes extremely well though. I can honestly say that I could picture everything that she was describing in her stories. To the point a few times I had to hug myself at the end of a story. I am happy that I bought this though since I can see myself in the future re-reading some of my favorite stories, and that’s how you know you have a home-run with me that even without it being a 5 star rated book by me, I have every intention of coming back and thinking about what was written. I honestly wish that Gay would come back and revisit some of these characters in future works.

“I Will Follow You” (5 stars)-The love that a pair of sisters have for one another. This story sets the stage for the rest of the collection. I actually re-read this one twice just because I wanted to let the story live longer with me. Heartbreaking and full of hope at the same time.

“Water, All Its Weight” (3 stars)-I honestly was confused with this one. It definitely had a fairytale aspect to it. But after reading the previous story, I guess I wasn’t in the headspace for something I found to just be quirky.

“The Mark of Cain” (3 stars)-This one was weird. A woman pulled between two brothers. I honestly didn’t get why she made the choices she did. I think throughout the whole story I was just confused. I don’t know why anyone would say to themselves this is a good life. But maybe that was the lesson that Gay was trying to get across.

“Difficult Women” (5 stars)-I loved how Gay breaks down all of the cliches we have all heard before about women. Breaking things down so that you can see the woman behind the loose, frigid, and crazy. About seeing what mothers and even dead girls think about. Wonderful from beginning to end.

When a Crazy Woman is Misunderstood

It started with a phone call after a third date where she followed him home and they had sex, nothing memorable, but overall, adequate.

They had breakfast at the diner next door.

He ate eggs, scrambled soft.

She had pancakes, doused in syrup and butter.

“I can’t believe you’re a woman who eats,” he said.

“You’re a goddamned dream.

 

FLORDIA (5 stars)-Once again Gay breaks down a community of women that live in a gated community in Florida.

La Negra Blanca (4 stars)-A look at a woman who is passing as white who uses what she has body wise to pay for school. I like the story, but think adding in the customer to it made it a little too Hollywood movie for me. He was also a gross figure and the whole ending left me with chills. I maybe made sure my door was locked at the end of this story.

“Baby Arm” (2 stars)-My least favorite of all of the stories. I don’t know, I feel like this is something that I maybe once upon watched on Adult Swim at night one time. Only in anime form or something. I also started giggling remembering 30 Rock with Liz Lemon.

“North Country” (5 stars)-I loved this story from beginning to end. Reading about a woman learning to love again and a man who works his way into her heart was great. I would love to see this brought to film one day. The narrator’s story of how she ended up where she was to meet Magnus was great.

“How” (3 stars)-Eh. I think that it was just okay. I didn’t have any big takeaways from it. And I hate how the character of Hanna never did reveal what her mother had to say.

“Requiem for a Glass Heart” (2 stars)-I didn’t really care for this story much. Once again based on what went before, it was just okay.

“In the Event of My Father’s Death” (3 stars)-I hated the ending.

“Break All the Way Down” (5 stars)-Once again this story brought to film would be wonderful. I loved it. I also got why the main character was punishing herself. When the reveal comes out you will get it too.

“Bad Priest” (3 stars)-Just made me think about the Thorn Birds. Nothing Earth shattering here.

“Open Marriage” (4 stars)-The shortest of the short stories and the one that did crack me up.

“Best Features” (5 stars)-I loved Milly and sat and thought to myself how many of my friends and even me have had that thing drilled into our heads due to what is considered undesirable. I was made fun of for being light skinned and would often sit outside to make myself darker. For some African American men I am too dark, for others, not light enough, for some white men definitely too dark and for some of them they want someone dark skinned to make things more “exotic.” With Milly being heavy weight she always feels as if she has to give in anytime a man shows her interest since she knows that she is not seen as desirable like thin women are. Just loved the whole story. It really made me think.

“Bone Density” (5 stars)-The ins and outs of marriage. I am pretty happy that I am single after reading this story.

“I Am a Knife” (3 stars)-Once again I didn’t get this until almost the end. But I have to say that I got bored with reading the word knife over and over again.

“The Sacrifice of Darkness” (4.5 stars)-I liked this one though I found most of it to be odd. If you can get your head past the central premise of the story you may like it too.

“Noble Things” (4 stars)-Way too soon after the US election and Gay imagines a world in which we have another Civil War. I liked this story, but thought the ending didn’t quite get there.

“Strange Gods” (5 stars)-A powerful ending to this collection. Until you get to the reveal you don’t get what is happening with our narrator. You just know that she loves the man she’s with and is in a stream of consciousness writing tell him her beginning that he is unaware of right now.

I liked for the most part that in every story that the women/girls within it were not just white and that so many issues were brought up in this collection: rape, spousal abuse, lying, sexual needs, faith, sin, hope, I can go on. Definitely worth a read!

four-stars

Alcott and heavy-handed moralizing

Alcott and heavy-handed moralizingWork: A Story of Experience by Louisa May Alcott
Published by Penguin Classics on 1873
Genres: Classics - Victorian
Pages: 344
Source: Purchased: ebook
Goodreads
three-stars

In this story of a woman's search for a meaningful life, Alcott moves outside the family setting of her best known works. Originally published in 1872, Work is both an exploration of Alcott's personal conflicts and a social critique, examining women's independence, the moral significance of labor, and the goals to which a woman can aspire. Influenced by Transcendentalism and by the women's rights movement, it affirms the possibility of a feminized utopian society.

This review was originally posted over on Booklikes and somehow never got posted over here. I read this book a while ago (October, 2013). It hasn’t stuck with me as well as some of Alcott’s other works, so I wouldn’t call it one of her more successful books.

I read this for The Alcott Event, happening in a private group over on Goodreads. When I began reading this, I mistakenly believed that it was one of her early novels. I was quite wrong about that – according to Wikipedia, it was published in 1873, after both Little Women and Little Men, as well as after her melodramatic stories that were published in the 1860’s. So, looking at it with this in mind, some of what I thought were the seeds of Little Women are really more recycled bits from that particular book.

This is not Alcott’s best work, which makes sense, since it is a largely forgotten story. Written for adults, it is more overtly political even than her other books, with very obvious feminist and abolitionist overtones. Although it is well-worth reading, Alcott is – as she has a tendency to be – heavy-handed in her moralizing.

The book generally tells the tale of a young woman, Christie Devon, who leaves the care of her resentful uncle and long-suffering but loving aunt and seeks employment to make her way in the world. She is engaged in various fairly menial jobs: governess, companion, actress, seamstress, and struggles to support herself. Many issues are addressed, and Alcott’s abiding abolitionist beliefs are openly articulated.

There were a couple of things that I found particularly interesting about the book. First, reminiscent of the proposal of Laurie and Jo’s refusal to marry him, Christie also turns down a proposal from a wealthy gentleman. There are shades of Pride and Prejudice, as well, in the dialogue from this section of the book. Christie initially turns him down politely, and when he reacts badly, we have a very “Lizzie Bennett” moment where she calls him out for his sense of superiority. It left me wondering if Alcott had read P&P close in time to writing the book – the scenes were so similar.

In addition, it has a bit of a WTF ending. Alcott is a deeply religious woman, and believes fervently (as many of her era did) in a heaven. The book takes place during the years of the Civil War and much is made of the heroic sacrifice of the men and women who fought for the union and who died, or had loved ones die, in the war. Louisa always was one for the grand sacrificial gesture – if you are looking for a traditional happily ever after for our heroine, well, you’re not going to get one.

Anyway, it was an interesting read. A bit too sweet and preachy for my taste, but, still, Alcott was a very principled woman, and it was interesting to read something that is so clearly feminist and egalitarian from the early part of my nation’s history.

Next up from the Alcott canon is Eight Cousins. Eight Cousins is a lot more fun than Work.

three-stars

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith WhartonThe House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
on 1905
Genres: Classics - Twentieth Century
Pages: 351
Source: Purchased: print book
Goodreads

First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social, and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities. Lily Bart, beautiful, witty, and sophisticated, is accepted by "old money" and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears 30, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her life in the luxury she has come to expect. While many have sought her, something—fastidiousness or integrity—prevents her from making a "suitable" match.

Completely amazing.

Upon finishing the book, I wrote the above fragment. Now that a few days have passed, and I have had a chance to digest the book more fully, I want to elaborate on why I found this book to be completely amazing.

This was only my second Edith Wharton book – I have previously read The Age of Innocence, which I also highly recommend – but no others. Wharton treads much of the same ground from The Age of Innocence in this one. Both books are set in gilded age New York, and both are, in a sense, novels of manners. But, while there are similarities in time and place, the stories are entirely different.

Lily Bart is a remarkable character, and Wharton’s slow unfolding of her character is masterful. I spent the first quarter of the book being completely disgusted by her. Her frivolity, her shallowness, her materialism – I saw very little in her character that was redeemable. As the book progressed, though, I found myself beginning to admire her, first unwittingly, then unwillingly, and finally without reservation. She is a fool, certainly. She has been trained since childhood to be a pretty ornament on the arm of a man with money. In spite of that training, she finds herself unable to overcome an innate sense of integrity which precludes her from marrying for money, because she does, it seems, love Lawrence Selden. The price that she pays for that integrity is unparallelled.

I have thought a great deal about the society that Wharton portrays. A society in which a man like Sim Rosedale turns out to the be the most honorable man in the room – an honest social climber. Selden was so deeply disappointing – he thought of himself as throwing off the shackles of society, and yet when it came down to a point where it was really, really important that he stand against society, he completely failed.

There are two characters who were, actually, completely unredeemably monstrous: Bertha Dorset and Grace Stepney. The first is a deceitful hypocrite, the second a venal back-biter. In this relatively short novel – as compared to Dickens or James – Wharton lays bare a society in which appearance of morality is all that matters. In which women are not merely ornamental, but are raised in such a way that they are utterly incapable of so much as feeding themselves. In which the rules are bizarre, absurd, and the only people who have to follow them are the people without the power to ignore them.

I know that a lot of people hated the ending. I didn’t. But, I will say that it is unsatisfying indeed that that bitch Bertha Dorset never gets the comeuppance she so richly deserves.

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