An Untamed State
by Roxane Gay
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Length: 368 Pages
Release date: May 6, 2014
Publisher: Grove Press
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. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.
Once upon a time, in a far-off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones. They held me captive for thirteen days. They wanted to break me. It was not personal. I was not broken. This is what I tell myself.
I’m a big fan of Roxane Gay’s essays, and I’ve been meaning to get around to reading her novel for some time now; I’m glad I finally did. While it was difficult to read, it was beautifully done, portraying horrific suffering and brutality with stark clarity.
Mireille as a character was one of the novel’s biggest strengths. She is not a “perfect victim,” but this does not take away from her victimhood or make her less sympathetic. Instead, she is a real woman with flaws and failings. Growing up, she never thought twice about the poverty in her homeland and the sharp contrast with her own family’s obscene wealth. In the aftermath of her kidnapping and rape, she is angry, sometimes irrational, always painfully and honestly human. Mireille’s scrambling crawl to recovery is undignified and raw.
This novel keeps the reader hanging on every moment following Mireille’s ordeal with painful detail without ever feeling voyeuristic, a difficult balance to strike when writing about such an ugly and intimate crime. The reader will be drawn into Mireille’s thoughts as she slowly loses herself in an attempt to insulate herself from her seemingly hopeless reality. It is impossible not to root for her to find her way back.
An Untamed State is about class divides, racism, sexual violence, and the ugly, uphill climb to something resembling normalcy after a trauma. Gay handles these topics unflinchingly with her skillful prose.
Thank you for reading! Have you read any of Roxane Gay’s work? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer her essays or her fiction?