It happens about once a year. That time when no book seems good, when I can’t fall into a novel and just wander aimlessly through life.
The dreaded reading slump.
That was me in November. I just couldn’t get into any books. At all.
Life was busy, and the holidays were approaching, and I didn’t have time, for one. But I also just couldn’t.
And then, just when I had a weekend to really sit down and find my reading pace, to get back in the perusing groove, life exploded a bit. The way only 2016 could bring on a life explosion.
The day after Thanksgiving, the day after his birthday, my husband was hospitalized for an abscess on his kidney. They had to biopsy it to make sure it wasn’t cancerous (that lead to a few days of nail biting), and drain it because it was very infected. Once he got the all-clear (no cancer), he was good to go home.
This began a month of worrying about him (he’s got a rare bacteria swimming around in his blood system). We had a couple of months of signals that something was coming –obvious only in hindsight — before he developed the abscess: he was exhausted beyond normal and had flu like symptoms without having the flu.
Luckily it’s all been diagnosed and he seems to be getting better. He’s still taking antibiotics, and may be for some time, but he’s got some energy back and he’s not sick.
The we had to get ready for Christmas and our annual Festivus party. Decorating, cleaning, shopping, and cooking. Plus real life was continuing. Plus I was worrying about him. And the rest of my family.
See, my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer last February. She lives in Arizona, so it’s tough to get to see her as often as I would like. I want to be there to help, but life is here in Ohio, so I can’t just run and go. My stepdad is AMAZING, but I worry about him, pretty much doing it all himself. That made 2016 personally tough.
(Note to all: my mother-in-law died a few years ago of lung cancer. I hate this disease.)
So, when Ted got sick, I freaked. In my mind and in my heart, I freaked. When they said it might be cancer, I freaked more, screaming the scream of the anguished, in my head (and in the car, on the way to and from the hospital). Even when the doctor told us that he was almost certain it was not cancer, I worried.
(And did you know that a large, metropolitan hospital may not have pathology open on the weekends? Or maybe it was just because it was Thanksgiving weekend–but still!)
Any way, he ended up all clear and came home with a drainage tube and bag, which was removed a week later.
And December was a roller coaster of a month, as far as health goes. My mom, who lives in Arizona, got the CANCER FREE scan we’ve all been praying for (and this was the BEST Christmas present).
But then, that same day, we dealt with a blood test for my daughter that came back with a MAYBE for leukemia. She’d been complaining about sore muscles and joints, and the doctor was just worried enough (as was I) to get a blood test. (If you didn’t know, children with Down syndrome are more likely to develop leukemia than typical children, although they respond better to treatment.)
Her doctor wanted us to get a more thorough blood test, but she wanted us to wait a few days, because if it was viral (and not leukemia), all of that would hopefully be out of my daughter’s system and we would see her counts at normal levels (or close).
So, from Monday to Thursday we held our breath. School let out, and she got the blood test. And then we held our breath again waiting for the results.
Thank goodness for a doctor who is also a mother. She called me that evening, as soon as she got the results. My daughter’s numbers were NORMAL, so no leukemia!!! YEA!!!!!
Oh, and in the middle of this roller coaster of a week, I had a mammogram, which I really wasn’t worried about, until all this happened. Then I was a little nervous. But it came back fine, and I’m fine.
And my daughter is fine.
And my mom is doing fine.
And my husband is doing fine.
Of course, during all of this, I needed books. But I didn’t have time to find the right books. I needed an easy book, one that would take my mind off of everything and let me just float away for a little while. I needed easy and fun or nail-biting, but not deep.
I needed a book tonic, and I didn’t have time to find one.
So I was in a slump. Because my mind was in a whirl, and it was just too hard to find a book that could take me out of the whirl, even for a little while.
As soon as it was all over, my slump was over. I got my reading groove back. I’m back in the zone.
With that, and a healthy family, I feel like we’ve started 2017 right.
Okay, onto my first read of 2017: Roxanne Gay’s Difficult Women.
(I don’t usually do a premise with a collection. It’s a collection of short stories, so there are a BUNCH of premises!!!)
A collection of short stories, Difficult Women exactly what it promises. Stories about difficult women. Varying socio-economic statuses and difficulties, all these women live rare (I hope), quirky, disturbing lives.
There’s the woman who goes to a fight-club in her off time, with a co-worker who is the only person who understands her. There are the sisters who were abducted as children, and now, as grown women, are inseparable, although one is married. There is the black engineer who moves to Northern Michigan in an attempt to put her past behind her. There is a couple who deal with their infertility during hunting season.
A couple of times in Difficult Women Gay creates mini-collections, using the same setting to tell readers stories of the women who live there. She uses the small, Upper Michigan town to tell a variety of stories of women trapped in a smallish northern town. She also uses a gated community (I think it’s gated; it’s that type of community, at any rate) to tell a variety of stories from that community.
This group of stories are sometimes difficult and some of the women are a little off-kilter (again, I hope), but they’re enlightening, and my favorite kind of stories. Because, as crazy and difficult as these women are, Gay does a great job of explaining them a bit. By going to the dark corners of her character’s minds, she often tells us why some these women are so difficult (although some of them are just crazy, tbh).
I say this every time I read a collection of stories, but short stories aren’t my favorite. But somehow this one really connected with me. Maybe because I’m a woman and I can be difficult. Maybe because it does tell stories of women doing slightly (and some not-so-slightly) crazy things because its the only way their lives can work and make sense. And because it’s so different.
It’s beautiful and raw and dark and real. I cannot imagine living some (most) of these lives, but Gay helps me understand them. At times these stories made me down-right uncomfortable (as the mother of daughters, especially), but that’s what good fiction does sometimes. It takes you to places you don’t go in everyday life, opening up new and different views.
Difficult Women was a wonderful start to my reading life in 2017. Quick, different, and interesting. I highly recommend it!
I received an advanced digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review
Title: Difficult Women
Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Grove Press (January 3, 2017)
Pages: 272 pages (read on my Kindle as an ARC)