Book Reviews

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

An Untamed State“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. An Untamed State establishes Roxane Gay as a writer of prodigious, arresting talent.” ~Goodreads


An Untamed State (May 6, 2014) is as difficult to review as it was to read. I truly didn’t exhale  until after the story was over and I felt that Miri was safe and on the road to healing.

Roxane Gay is a new favorite author of mine, a voice for women (Bad Feminist comes out in August 2014). What stood out in this horrific story of torture and sexual assault was her development of the characters. She didn’t just create some characters for a story but real people. Complex people. Loving, angry, resentful, hateful, compassionate, doubtful, difficult, intelligent, naive, challenging…every facet of being a person. Maybe that is why I felt so connected to Miri. Not because I have endured anything close to what she went through but her multi-faceted personality made her relatable. A REAL woman.

Gay wrote a seamless story balancing the torture and desperation with flashbacks of Miri’s life before the kidnapping; her life growing up in Haiti and America as a child, her relationship with her family and my favorite scenes of Miri & Michael as they navigated the delicate dance of two very different people coming together. I can’t say enough about Gay’s writing. The way she told the story with utmost honesty but didn’t exploit or write for shock value. She equally gave attention to the victim as she did the survivor and I thank her for that.

While some readers might think the story is “over the top”, I would like them to do a quick Internet search about people being kidnapped and held for ransom in foreign countries. As I was reading I had an eerie sensation, a déjà vu, and remembered the story of Eduardo Valseca who was native to Mexico and after living in the US for some time returned with his wife and family to the “land he loved”. He wanted to raise his children in his homeland. He was kidnapped in 2008 for ransom and held in a box for 7 1/2 months being tortured and starved. I was riveted when I watched The Valsecas tell their story and it never left me.

An Untamed State and Miri’s story will never leave me as well. Not because it disturbed me to having nightmares or was more than I could handle. But because people like Roxane Gay give these survivors voices to tell their story. It might be labeled Literary Fiction but these stories are real and need to be written, told, read and witnessed.

*Thank you to Black Cat, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic and NetGalley for the digital ARC. I was not compensated or required to review this novel.

To learn more about Roxane Gay, her writing and events, please visit her site here.


5 thoughts on “An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

    • Thank you Shannon! Your review is excellent also. There were times when I disliked Miri’s lack of confidence and struggle with being loved in the “before” but it just made her that much more of someone the reader can relate to. Loved it!!

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