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An Untamed State

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“Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down. An Untamed State is a novel of hope intermingled with fear, a book about possibilities mixed with horror and despair. It is written at a pace that will match your racing heart, and while you find yourself shocked, amazed, devastated, you also dare to hope for the best, for all involved.”—Edwidge Danticat, author of Breath, Eyes, Memory and The Dew Breaker

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.

“From the astonishing first line to the final scene, An Untamed State is magical and dangerous. I could not put it down. Pay attention to Roxane Gay; she's here to stay.”—Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and Leaving Atlanta

“[Haiti’s] better scribes, among them Edwidge Danticat, Franketienne, Madison Smartt Bell, Lyonel Trouillot, and Marie Vieux Chavet, have produced some of the best literature in the world. . . . Add to their ranks Roxane Gay, a bright and shining star.”—Kyle Minor, author of In the Devil’s Territory, on Ayiti

From Publishers Weekly

Feb 17, 2014 – Poet and short story writer Gay's first novel delivers a searing portrait of a politically and economically divided Haiti, as seen through the lens of one family's nightmare. Mireille Duval Jameson, a Haitian-born young woman, is on vacation from Miami and visiting her upper-class parents in Port-au-Prince when she is kidnapped at gunpoint. Her captors regularly extract hefty ransoms from their wealthy victims, but in this case, Mireille's too-proud father refuses to pay up until it's nearly too late, resulting in his daughter suffering 13 days of increasingly savage sexual torture. When Mireille regains her freedom, it's only the first step in the shaken family's uncertain recovery. Though the opening kidnapping feels like a scene from a particularly stilted thriller, Gay soon finds a more assured footing as she narrows in on the pain each character both endures and inflicts. Mireille's desperate attempts to wrestle control from her kidnappers by sacrificing her body are deeply felt, but it's the author's unflinching portrayal of Mireille's shattered physical and psychological state once she's rejoined her husband and infant son that is at once disturbing and frighteningly resonant.

Customer Reviews

Tough but good

Despite my reservations about the subject matter, I am a fan of Roxane Gay so I convinced myself to download a copy of An Untamed State. Not surprisingly, it was an emotional read, but I really loved Gay's rhythm and ability to convey a scene. Mireille, Lorraine, and images of Haiti lingered with me for days after having finished the book. Though so much of the story is frustrating, heart wrenching, and eerie, I always appreciate a book that affects me. A lot has been made about Gay's ability to write on sexual violence in a non-sanitized or glamorized manner (as can be the case). This is important, and I do agree that Gay is honest without being gratuitous.

It can be strange to recommend a book that is emotional and difficult, and yet. Through fiction Gay is able to make her reader think about complex issues including poverty, privilege, home and belonging, compassion, and of course issues of power and gender. I hope more people give this book a chance.


Roxanne Gay takes a hard, unsparing look at race, privilege, violence against women, and how one woman survives the horror of an abduction. Mireille is Haitian, a daughter not of poverty but of wealth and a sheltered life. She admits that she has a fairytale life. That is, until visiting Haiti from their home in Miami, she is abducted by a group of men to gain ransom from her father. At first, she believes that such kidnapping as business transactions and that no serious harm will come to her. That her father would pay the ransom and she would be returned home. But, that belief is soon crushed and the level of cruelty and violence of her captors escalates, and her mental, emotional and physical state deteriorates.

The novel is intense and almost exhausting to read - from the impressive opening lines to the closing incident that reminds the narrator that healing from such a life destroying traumatic event is fraught with setbacks and moments that can send her right back to survival mode. While I often read more than one book at a time, I found that I almost had to pick something else up to get a break from the unrelenting nature of the novel, to have the space to process and then return again.

The title echoes the nature of the violence, poverty, and corruption of Haiti as well as the mental and emotional state of the narrator throughout the novel. Despite the presentation of poverty setting the dynamic that leads to kidnappings, the perpetrators are not excused, not drawn as sympathetic. That they do not distinguish between the privileged of Haiti whose wealth is from corruption and those who earned their life through hard work argues that the kidnappers talk of the injustice of their world, but are nothing more than opportunistic thugs that use violence and power to gain money and are just as corrupt and immoral as those they rail against.

Between the harrowing moments of the kidnapping, we learn the story of Mireille, her family, and her love and marriage to Michael, a Nebraskan farm boy -- Mireille's family calls him Mr. America. This provides the before and after of Mireille's life, the person she was, and the person she was forced to be to survive. The format gives the reader space to breath, to digest, to recover from the relentless destruction of a woman.

The novel does not end with her release. The reader follows the days and weeks, the months, and eventually years of Mireille's journey to be whole, to find who she is, to find not just a reason to live, but life worth living. Mireille's climb from the place where she cannot remember her own name or those she once loved because it was easier to survive as 'no one' to place where she feels safe and loved is as brutal a journey as her captivity.

Interestingly, it is not the husband, or her own family that serve as her anchor, but her mother-in-law, Lorraine. Through Mireille's memories, she is portrayed as the negatives of the stereotype of the midwestern farm-wife. All is not as it seems in this novel, nothing is simple, none of the questions it poises have easy answers.

Gay's writing isn't lyrical, the novel, not perfect, but both are powerful.

Untamed State by Roxanne Gay

A story I will never forget about survival of a life forever changed by evil. So good to read a book by someone who actually has true talent. It's been a while. This was a great, wild read.

An Untamed State
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  • $15.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: May 06, 2014
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Seller: Perseus Books, LLC
  • Print Length: 368 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: This book can only be viewed on an iOS device with Apple Books on iOS 12 or later, iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

Customer Ratings