An Untamed State by Roxane Gay: Book Review

FictionAn Untamed State, Roxanne Gay
Released May, 2014
386 Pages
Bottom Line: Read it.
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Source: eGalley provided by the publisher via NetGalley

Plot Summary

Mireille Duval Jameson, the U.S. transplant daughter of a wealthy Haitian construction magnate, is kidnapped while visiting her parents in Haiti and is forced to live with the aftermath.

My Thoughts

An Untamed State had been sitting on my Kindle since this spring and Shannon at River City Reading‘s frequent mentions and glowing review gave me the motivation to dig it out. This book (particularly the first half) affected me in a way that no other book has all year and I wondered how I would ever write about it. It caused me to quickly redo my Best Debuts of 2014 post and will likely make my overall Best Books of 2014 list (coming December 16).

An Untamed State is an incredibly intense, brutal book, touching almost every emotion imaginable (horror, terror, humor, pride, strength, and romance…yes, all in one book). It’s the second kidnapping book I’ve read this year and Gay, drawing from her real life experience as a gang rape victim, brought forth the emotion appropriate to the story that was sadly missing from my first kidnapping book (Chasing the Sun by Natalia Sylvester). 

The first half of the book is an emotional roller coaster that made me consider knocking my leading contender for Best Book of 2014 down a notch…

The first half of the story focuses on Mireille’s kidnapping and the ransom negotiations with her father who says he “will never pay a ransom, not for himself, not for any member of his family”. The scenes alternate between Mireille’s absolutely brutal experience in captivity (I just cannot put it into any kind of concise description) and the story of how she met and married her husband, Michael, which I found unexpectedly romantic.

If this book is ever made into a movie, the captivity scenes will cause many people to turn away. But, as soon as you think you can’t take anymore horror, Gay switches gears to the story of Mireille and Michael, giving your gut wrenching a much needed respite. And, it’s these powerful swings in emotion that really made me think it would be my Best Book of 2014.

However, the second half knocked it from my sure-fire Best Book of 2014 to a regular “I loved it”…

Only one therapist told me the truth. She said, “I am going to come clean with you, Mireille. You will get better but you will never be okay, not in the way you once were. There is no being okay after what you’ve been through.”

The second half focuses on Mireille’s recovery from the horrors she faced in captivity, her emotions towards her father, and her re-integration into life with Michael and their son. While I did enjoy this part of the story and appreciated the overall message, I felt it was a bit repetitive with Mireille’s feelings and could have been condensed. The intense emotions that made the first half so spell-binding dissipated for me. 

I’ll be honest…if you can’t handle terrible brutality, then this is not the book for you. But, if you don’t mind being drawn into incredible emotional intensity, even if difficult, then An Untamed State is a must read. It’s going on my Book Club Recommendations List.

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  1. Oh man, this book. So difficult and powerful. I’m glad you loved it!

    Posted 12.10.14 Reply
  2. Glad to hear it ended up being such a good read for you! It’s interesting that you found the beginning to be the better half – I think the book really takes off after her release. It’s definitely not as heart-pounding and can be a bit repetitive, but I think Gay does an absolutely amazing job portraying the life/emotions of a survivor.

    Posted 12.10.14 Reply
    • admin wrote:

      I remember you saying you had preferred the second half! I just a bit let down after the intensity of the first half. I’ll send you a follow-up email with more…

      Posted 12.10.14 Reply
  3. Carmen wrote:

    I added this book and several others that were in your list of the best debuts of the year. I just finished The Martian and loved it!

    Posted 12.12.14 Reply
  4. Melanie wrote:

    I’ve had this book since I bought it at a reading she did! Gah! Also, they ARE making it into a movie. 🙂

    Posted 5.13.16 Reply

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