If you asked me to name my top three favorite writers, Roxane Gay would be one of them. Probably number one. Actually, she would be number one. There is such an honesty in her writing that shines through no matter the style: fiction, essay, Twitter. So when I saw that Women and Children First bookstore would be hosting Gay in mid-March as part of her Difficult Women book tour, I bought the book (my ticket in) the moment it went on sale.
The week leading up to the event (on March 15) I read the entire short story collection. And I’ve got to say, it’s the best short story collection I’ve read. There was such a variety between the women Gay wrote about it, and so much depth. The women were written with depth, the kind that writers reserve for writing male characters. Gay said this at the beginning of the event to a large round of applause.
There are twenty-one short stories in this collection, and my favorites were “The Sacrifice of Darkness” and “Noble Things.” Both were toward the end of the collection, and when I finished both of them, I had to stop for a few moments to let them sink in.
“The Sacrifice of Darkness” is about what happened after Hiram Hightower flew an air machine into the sun and his darkness swallowed up the sun. His daughter-in-law is the narrator of the story, and she tells of what led to him flying into the sun, how she became friends and later married his son Joshua, and the hope their little family has for the sun eventually returning to the sky. It was a beautifully written story, and was more fantasy sci fi leaning than the previous pieces. The story reminded me of “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury, how the sun is only visible for one hour every seven years on Venus and how Margot didn’t get to see the sun because she was locked in the closet. “The Sacrifice of Darkness” showed how people can show animosity and place blame on one person. I began to wonder what life would be like without the sun. Would we survive?
The other piece I loved was “Noble Things,” which is set in an unknown year after the New Civil War. The South seceded once more, and this time, it was successful. There have been many times when this possibility has crossed my mind, but only for a second before I go about what I was doing before. And lately I’ve been wondering more and more, not necessarily about an impending Civil War but of what will come of the United States. This story held quite a few passages that sat with me for a time after I finished reading it, such as: “He had learned to live with the pain but lately, in a cold bed without a warm woman, the pain was too much, too fresh, a burden he was forced to carry because of the decisions of other men.” (223)
But none more striking than the final sentence:
“They tried to remember the before, when they were children and there was only one place to call home, one country, the flag billowing on windy days in front of homes up and down every street—bands of red and white, fifty stars, one nation, indivisible until it wasn’t, how quickly it all came apart.” (234)
At the event, Gay read “Open Marriage” and from “Difficult Women.” Both were short stories that I also enjoyed; they are toward the top if I were to order the short stories from favorite to “least” favorite. And when Britt Julious asked about the second short story—“Water, All Its Weight,” which is about a woman who is followed by water and decay—and how Gay came up with the idea, she told the audience about how all her stories are grounded in literal things, and then something more comes from that. For the second story, she was living in what used to be a laundromat and had noticed mold forming on one of the ceiling panels. “Water, All Its Weight” is rife with clues and meanings for reader to pull, meanings that Gay didn’t intend to write when she first noticed the mold on her ceiling: ”Sometimes as a writer, you nail it. And I nailed it.”
Seeing Gay for the second time (the first was with Gloria Steinem back in October 2015) was the bright spot in my week and quite possibly my month. The honesty that is in her writing is also something that comes through when she speaks. I wish the event could’ve been longer, or maybe a longer Q&A session. But she herself addressed honesty during that portion of the evening, and it is advice that I will keep with me:
“Honesty goes a long way. You never have to remember your lies. … Your truth is all that is needed. That is enough.”