Published by Grove Press on 2014
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary
Roxane Gay is a powerful new literary voice whose short stories and essays have already earned her an enthusiastic audience. In An Untamed State, she delivers an assured debut about a woman kidnapped for ransom, her captivity as her father refuses to pay and her husband fights for her release over thirteen days, and her struggle to come to terms with the ordeal in its aftermath. Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents. An Untamed State is a novel of privilege in the face of crushing poverty, and of the lawless anger that corrupt governments produce. It is the story of a willful woman attempting to find her way back to the person she once was, and of how redemption is found in the most unexpected of places.
Reviewing An Untamed State hopped up on cough medicine and generally feeling ill may not be advisable, but I’m going to try it anyway. It’s a powerful book, powerfully written, with a powerful message. That message, like it or leave it, is feminism.
Before reading An Untamed State I have read maybe half of Bad Feminist and admire Gay as an essayist and someone who is making waves (meaningful waves) in current American feminism – attempting to grapple it out of the hands of upper-middle class white women and spread it for ALL THE PEOPLE. The cough syrup is rearing its head already, no?
This book is raw and powerful. Gay gives descriptions of rape and abuse that are written on a page of onion skin. By that I mean that the reader is sheltered from the worst of the abuse through a layer of beautiful, heart wrenching prose. The tug and pull between Mireille’s past, present, and future, is a haunting and difficult part of the novel.
For whatever reason, these novels of abuse and survival are not ‘hard’ reads for me. An Untamed State was harrowing, yes. But just as other novels have left me with me – so has this one done. I know that my privileged upper-middle class, white cis-woman experiences are a part of it – I’ve never encountered real fear or hardship – for whatever reason – I’ve always been shielded from the most terrible parts of life. This does not negate my own difficulties. But all the same An Untamed State is one of those books that lifts the veil on the realities that even the wealthiest face in a lawless, yet beautiful country such as Haiti.
For me the most difficult part of the novel was the not the physical abuse and torment that Mireille faced at the hands of her kidnappers. It was the psychological scars and pain that would not perhaps ever heal from the experience. Maybe this is because I have known psychological pain where I have not known the terror of physical brutality. My heart ached when following her return she suffered from PTSD, when she was unable to ‘pull it together’ or even verbalize why everything was spiraling out of control after her return to the States. This part of the novel has not left me the way that the section on the torments of her kidnapping have.
Gay balances all of this horror and pain with great kindness. The patience and love that is shown by her mother-in-law is unexpected and because of that it is also more beautiful.
I highly recommend this book to everyone. The difficult reading combined with the beautiful prose makes this a meaningful read. If you’re a rape/kidnapping/abuse survivor, please know this probably will have triggers.
Andi had an excellent review of this yesterday.
What about you, Reader? Have you read An Untamed State? Do you challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone enough?