Published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc. on 5/6/2014
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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.