Gay takes rewarding risks in form, placing traditional narratives about failed relationships alongside inventive stories that dive into surrealism ... the real gift to readers in Difficult Women is her ability to marry her well-known intellectual concerns with good storytelling ... We glimpse the slights and economic hardships these women endure and see how emotional damage manifests itself into hardened personalities and complicated relationships ... Gay excels in her allowance for human complexity. Trauma gives way to unusual pleasure, and healing might be found through more pain or submission ... 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.
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. This makes even uncommon situations relatable ... Because Gay is such a vivid writer, her stories have a remarkable visual sweep. She puts her readers there ... Gay writes of chances missed and unexpected joy, love gone awry or resurrected, and the slivers of hope that keep these fascinating women alive.
The women here are complex, but not in the typical way of fiction. Much like Mireille, the protagonist of Gay’s profound and violent novel, An Untamed State, the women here reveal themselves in how their minds adjust to a world that seems bent on violating their bodies ... At their worst, the men here are pedophiles, rapists and sexists. At their best, they’re armchair chauvinists with occasional flares of the fist. (Which may make men the best audience for this book.) ... This collection begs for a slow, serious reading. Sure, some themes and scenes and gestures repeat. Maybe a handful of the stories could have been left out, but there’s too much richness to let that nettle.