An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

An Untamed State by Roxane GayAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. on 5/6/2014
Source: Publisher
Pages: 368
Buy from IndieBound


While visiting her wealthy parents in Port au Prince, Haiti, Mireille is separated from her husband and infant son and kidnapped at gunpoint. Though her father is able to afford the sky high ransom the captors demand, he believes doing so would make his family vulnerable and leaves Miri at the mercy of her increasingly violent kidnappers for thirteen days.

There are distinct phases in reading An Untamed State; the intense, almost thriller feel of Miri’s kidnapping is soon followed by the overwhelming heartbreak of her assault. Though Mireille flashes to beautiful memories from her past, which allow readers necessary moments to breathe, they are quickly contrasted by the brutal physical and emotional abuse she is subjected to through the first half of the novel. This is likely a point when some readers will set the book aside, too pained by what they’ve read. Sadly, they will miss out on the core of the story. 

“I was kept inside a glass box inside a glass box inside a glass box. I could see everyone I loved and they could see me. They were happy. They smiled at me as they walked by my glass box inside a glass box inside a glass box. I tried to shatter the glass with my fists and only shattered my bones. I stripped myself naked, pressed my body to the glass. I forced those beyond the glass to bear witness.” 

In the second half of An Untamed State, Gay is living in her characters’ skin; deeply understanding the intricacies of both Mireille’s post-traumatic stress and the fragile new dynamics between each member of her family. It’s here, as her husband struggles to understand Miri’s inability to adjust, that Gay’s writing soars and the profound importance of the novel is felt. 

Readers who struggled to get through scenes of Miri’s captivity in hopes of reaching a shining light may be disappointed to find more shadows. But in these shadows are the beauty of what Roxane Gay has done with An Untamed State. She has given a voice to countless women who have felt doubted, questioned or blamed in the wake of an assault. It’s not easy and it’s not always pretty, but it’s powerful and necessary.   

  • Great review. I posted my review of it today too. Thanks for giving me the push to finish it.

  • I adore Roxane Gay, and the lovely Vasilly of 1330v specifically said she thought I would like An Untamed State. But I admit that I’m struggling with the prospect of reading about such a brutal and continued assault. It sounds pretty daunting.

    • I think if you remind yourself as your’re reading that she’s held for thirteen days and her captivity isn’t going to last the entire book, it makes it easier to get through. And Roxane Gay does break it up with flashbacks so it’s not a constant barrage…but it’s not light reading by any means. Tanya just posted her review about how she had a hard time in the beginning but was glad she finished, too.

  • Vasilly

    You are so right. It’s not an easy read but it is powerful.

    • I think that’s part of what’s made it the best read I’ve had so far this year – I haven’t been so moved by a book until I read this one.

  • This is a powerful review! That quote gave me shivers. Books like this are hard to read, but so important for helping to make us aware of the atrocities that take place while we are living our comfortable lives.

  • Sounds like an intense book, great review!

  • Wow. This sounds absolutely riveting, the quote alone gave me chills.

    • I had such a hard time picking a quote for this one because I just had flags everywhere in my copy – so many incredible passages to choose from.

  • I’m going out and buying this first thing tomorrow! Great review.

  • I’ve heard that this is a really intense, but good read. I really want to read it though, even though I think parts will be hard to stomach!

  • Beautiful review! I agree that in the shadows of Miri’s life is where the beauty lies. And without giving away anything, I though the “refuge” Miri sought after returning home with an unlikely confidant was utter perfection in writing. Still makes me emotional.

  • Jennine G.

    This sounds rough even if it is good. Don’t know if I’d be up for it. But your review is well done!

  • Meg

    Whew, definitely sounds powerful — though I doubt I’d be able to get past the kidnapping. I have a hard enough time sleeping at night! But I really enjoyed your review — sounds like a very compelling story.

  • Sounds like a tough read, Shannon. I think that at some point I will also put this book aside. This might not be the book for me.

  • I’m still easing my way into books on difficult topics. I recently started being able to enjoy slightly darker fiction than I used to and have even started enjoying books which make my cry, like The Book Thief. I’m also about to start on Wintergirls, which deals with anorexia but is YA. I don’t think I’m quite ready for something that deals with this difficult of a topic, but hopefully someday, because I do think increasing empathy for people with difficult experiences in one of the most valuable parts of the reading experience. Great review!

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