Wednesday, December 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: An Untamed State

This is a book review for An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. This is the story of Mireille Duval Jameson (Miri), who is living a fairy tale life. She is the youngest daughter of one of Haiti's richest citizens, she has an adoring husband and a beautiful young son. This fairy tale ends when Miri is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men in front of her father's estate. Held captive by man who calls himself The Commander, she waits for her father to pay her ransom. This is the story of the torment she goes through when her father refuses to pay the kidnappers, her husband's fight for her release and her struggle to come to terms with her ordeal in the aftermath.

I have seen this book on so many "best of" lists for the year. I had already been introduced to Roxane Gay in her nonfiction book Bad Feminist. I enjoyed her writing style so I decided to read her novel debut. I am so glad that I did.

First of all, I want to say that this book does have some very graphic scenes. This is a powerful, gritty, and emotionally suspenseful book. If you have any triggers of sexual abuse, this would not be a good book for you. The book is divided into two parts: Happily Ever After and Once Upon a Time. At first glance, it seems unusual that the author did the parts in that particular order. But it makes sense. Miri lives like a princess in a fairy tale. She is happy and married and loves her family. Then her entire world is changed. During the Happily Ever After section, the author goes back and forth between Miri's captivity and her courtship with her husband, which she refers to as "the before." I am not going to lie: the scenes with her captors are hard to read. They are incredibly raw. Those men do things to her that I can't ever imagine surviving. At times, it seems like the reader is a voyeur, watching something that they have no business watching. But the story is so riveting that I couldn't tear my eyes away.

Then comes the aftermath . . . the Once Upon a Time section. Miri also refers to this period in her life as "the after."This part was almost as hard ti read as the beginning. Miri feels abandoned by her father and her husband because it took so long to get her back. She has severe PTSD and feels afraid, even in her own home. Some of the decisions she makes are hard to swallow, but easy to understand given what she has been through. Miri is fighting to get her life back. She feels she has  died during her captivity so the second half of the book is about Miri coming back to life. This tests her marriage and her family in a way that has never been tested before. I cried during the second half of the book. When I finished the book, I has to take a few deep breaths. This was such a masterpiece! It was so brutal, yet beautifully written. I really can't think of one thing to change.

Here are several powerful quotes from the book:

"They held me captive for thirteen days.
They wanted to break me.
It was not personal.
I was not broken.
This is what I tell myself."

"I made my choice. There is nothing you cannot do when you are no one."

"This is what I know -- the body is built to survive. An unknown energy pulsed just beneath my skin. I whispered, "I will survive this."" 

""Your mother did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like my father," I said, "I did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like you. It is often women who pay the price for what men want.""

I really think this was one of my favorite books this year, if not the best. I give the book a 5/5. If I could give the book more stars than that, I would!


  1. I don't have the guts to read this book - no matter how brilliant. I'll just live vicariously through you.

    1. I get it Joyous Reads. It isn't for everyone.

  2. I think I just heard about this one from Book Riot. I would love to read this one, I just need to be prepared going in. Great review!

    1. Jennifer, that is actually where I heard about the book too. It has been on all of their "best of the year" lists. It is great to be prepared because there are some tough scenes. But is so amazing.