An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

February 16, 2015 Contemporary Fiction 18

Hellooooo Bookworms!

Do any of y’all pay attention to The Tournament of Books? I don’t usually, since it’s rare I’ve read many (if any) of the contenders. This year, though, I’ve been hearing oodles of great things about An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. I was lucky enough to have a copy of this one sitting on my night table thanks to Shannon at River City Reading, so on Superbowl Sunday, I took the plunge and started the book. I missed the entire game (not upset) and the commercials (mildly disappointing) because I was completely engrossed in this book!

anuntamedstate I was kind of surprised at how hooked I was because this is not my normal fare. Mireille is the daughter of a pair of Hatian immigrants. The Duvals emigrated to the US to make their fortune and raise their family but chose to return to Port au Prince as wealthy business owners. Mireille, her husband, and her infant son were visiting Port au Prince and on their way to the beach when they were ambushed. Mireille was kidnapped and held for a huge ransom. It soon becomes clear that Mireille’s father is not willing to capitulate to the kidnappers’ demands, and Mireille pays the price for her father’s desire to negotiate and her own stubbornness. She is held for thirteen days, and suffers unimaginably.  An Untamed State covers Mireille’s ordeal and her struggle to regain her life in the aftermath.

Holy smokes, you guys. I tend to shy away from books that I know are going to be utterly tragic, particularly if they’ve got a sexual abuse element. It’s not like I’ve got any personal experience on the subject (and thank heaven for that!) but it’s heart wrenching to read about. (It also bears noting that this book could be a MAJOR trigger for survivors of sexual abuse, kidnapping, or other trauma. Be gentle with yourself and skip the book if you must.) Mireille was abused and broken and tormented, but the book was so compelling and so well done I didn’t even want to hide. This book was, in a word, fabulous. Even if you’re hesitant to tackle it because of the subject matter, I urge you to give it a shot (assuming it’s not going to trigger all sorts of unpleasantness for you. Mental health trumps literature every time, y’all!)

Talk to me, Bookworms! Have you ever been blown away by a book you very nearly didn’t read?

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18 Responses to “An Untamed State by Roxane Gay”

  1. Sarah's Book Shelves

    This one was such an emotional roller coaster…especially the first half, which was my favorite part of the book. I loved the juxtaposition of the horror of what was happening to Mirielle with the story of meeting and marrying Michael. This one was an honorable mention on my Best Books of 2014 List and made my Best Debuts of 2014 list as well.

  2. Rhian

    What I found especially compelling and real about this book was the aftermath – her release was not the end of the story, nor of her ordeal. Really well done. I was a bit wary because I had read some warnings, but I didn’t find the descriptions of her treatment by her kidnappers to be too graphic (nothing could be more disgusting than American Psycho) but still found them disturbing (obviously) as much for what was left unsaid or only hinted at.

    Mireille is a great character with a really strong, consistent “voice”. I loved the relationship between her and her mother-in-law. Such a great book.

    • Words For Worms

      Oh my gosh, I loved her relationship with her mother-in-law. That was fabulous. And YES I think the emotional and psychological aftermath was SO important and very well done.

  3. tanya (52 books or bust)

    I don’t normally read book like this either. They are just too fundamentally upsetting. But I’ve got to say, Gay did a wonderful job with this one. I hesitate to recommend it to people because it is just so darn traumatic, but it is also so, so wonderful. Such a difficult feat to pull off.

Talk to me, Bookworms!

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