An Untamed Stateby Roxane Gay
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
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. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (May)
Longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
“[A] commanding début . . . Mireille’s struggle to maintain a sense of self while being denied her freedom produces the novel’s most powerful chapters.”New Yorker
“Roxane Gay’s riveting debut, An Untamed State, captivates from its opening sentence and doesn’t let go. . . . Let this be the year of Roxane Gay: you’ll tear through An Untamed State, but ponder it for long after.”Nolan Feeney, Time.com
“A fairy tale . . . its complex and fragile moral arrived at through great pain and high cost. . . . Perhaps Haiti, too, is a beautiful princess, well-versed in the vagaries of men, still searching for a happily ever after.” Holly Bass, The New York Times Book Review
“Poignant . . . haunting . . . When Mireille is finally freed, her rocky adjustment harkens to that of the mother in Emma Donoghue's Room. . . . Gay writes of her homeland beautifully, describing it in the conflicting, nuanced way that will ring familiar to Americans whose parents hail from troubled lands. . . . Gorgeous writing . . . A wonderful and affecting read.”Rasha Madkour, Associated Press
“Gay may be working in territory many American readers know through the lyrical stories of Edwidge Danticat, but her style is wholly her own: direct, bracing and propulsive. . . . [A] smart, searing novel.” Ron Charles, The Washington Post
“To say that An Untamed State ‘tells the story’ of Mireille Duval Jameson - an American lawyer, wife, and new mother, who, while visiting her Haitian parents in Port Au Prince, falls victim to the wave of kidnappings plaguing that city - would be inadequate. Rather, Gay compels her readers to breathe and bleed [it]. . . . Brutally and vividly rendered.” Abby Frucht, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Bold . . . A terrific read. . . . The character development of Gay’s protagonist, Mireille, is particularly well-crafted and nuanced; her portrayal of a woman who fights her strongest fight to resist being defeated by her captors is compelling and agonizingly felt by the reader. . . . This novel . . . will reward the reader.” Jim Carmin, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“I applaud Gay’s courage: She writes candidly, vividly, and necessarily . . . You will find it difficult to resist her flawless pacing [and] sharp, clear prose.” Ariel Gonzalez, The Miami Herald
“Set in Haiti, Roxane Gay’s first novel, An Untamed State, is a roundhouse kick to notions of privilege.” Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair (Hot Type)
“Wrenching . . . Vividly written.” Jennifer Weiner, USA Today
“Clear your schedule now! 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. . . . It is written at a pace that will match your racing heart.”Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light
“A gripping psychological portrait of how trauma remakes the body to respond only to itself . . . Fans of Gay’s work as an editor at The Rumpus and a columnist for Salon (among other places) will see a lush, sensual side to her writing here, turned to describe brutal facts of subjugation and punishment, the agony of waiting to be rescued and the protection of the brain." Ellen Wernecke, The Onion AV Club
“Harrowing: truly, it harrows. With iron teeth it pulls up things that do not want to be pulled up. . . . Remarkable.” NPR
“Excellent . . . Brilliant, eye opening, and necessary. . . . Gay’s prose is direct and muscular, unflinchingly confronting the reality she’s created. . . . To call it ‘hard to put down’ is an understatement; I lost sleep over it, and won’t forget it anytime soon.” Alison Hallett, Portland Mercury
“[Roxane Gay] has written one of the most unsettling books of the year. And she’s just getting started. . . . Dark, gripping . . . It’s a compelling and at times painful read that addresses the issues of economic privilege, immigration, and sexual assault.” Tomi Obaro, Chicago Magazine
“A gripping tale of a young mother ensnared in Haiti’s explosive class struggle.” Natalie Beach, O Magazine (“15 Titles to Pick Up Now”)
“An Untamed State is breathless, artful, disturbing and original. I won’t ever forget it.” Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings
“Poised to affect anyone who reads the book. . . . Gay weaves a story that is thrilling and readable and, surprisingly, incredibly enjoyable. It is, ultimately, about survival, but walking away from the story unaffectedboth the reader and the characters withinis impossible.” Jessi Cape, The Austin Chronicle
“There are times when reading a novel is painful. Not because the prose is lacking or the narrative lags, but because the subject matter verges on the unbearable. Roxane Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State, falls under this last category. And yet, you must read it anyway. For beyond missing out on a story of such emotional power, you will miss out, as well, on this emerging writer’s abundant talent and insight, all on stunning display here. . . . An Untamed State is a rich, beautifully crafted novel, which should establish Roxane Gay as a writer who has something important to say and who knows how to say it.” Susan Buttenwieser, The Brooklyn Rail
“An Untamed State is the kind of book you have to keep putting down because you can’t believe how good it is. Awesome, powerful, impossible to ignore, Roxane Gay is a literary force of nature. An Untamed State arrives like a hurricane.” Mat Johnson, author of Pym
“Roxane Gay is a rockstar talent who’s already left her mark on the literary world, and her dazzling debut novel is certain to cement her place. . . . [a] haunting tale.” Morgan Ribera, Bustle (“May 2014’s Best Books”)
“Riveting.” Anjali Enjeti, Paste Magazine (“The Best Novels of 2014 (So Far)”)
“[A] startling debut novel . . . There are no easy answers to be found in An Untamed State, and Gay, in elegant, fierce, poetic prose that evokes early-career Margaret Atwood, forces her characters to reach across all borders to find some final sense of reason. It’s a hard-won discovery, surely, but one absolutely worth the journey. This is a novel not easily forgotten.” Tod Goldberg, Las Vegas Weekly (4/5 stars)
“An Untamed State is a harrowing, suspenseful novel about the connections between sexual violence and political rage, narrated in a voice at once traumatized and eerily controlled. Roxane Gay is a remarkable writer, an astute observer of Haitian society and a deeply sympathetic, unflinching chronicler of the compromises people make in order to survive under the most extreme conditions.” Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and Nine Inches
“[A] riveting debut novel . . . There is such a staggering sense of strength, confidence and integrity to Gay's telling. . . . An Untamed State is a gem, blasted into beauty by the world's harshest conditions. This gripping debut has set the table for many great works to come.” Margaret Wappler, Bookforum
“[A] superbly written and excoriating first tale of terror and suspense . . . Gay is a daring and transfixing storyteller. . . . Ferocious, gripping, and unforgettable.” Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“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
“Harrowing . . . It’s terrifying, this novel, but heartbreaking, because [Mireille’s] relationships are part of the dilemma. . . . I felt this powerfully.” John Freeman, BOMB
“Gay brilliantly writes of the story’s external events while skillfully capturing Mireille’s internal anguish.”Library Journal (starred review)
“A simmering, sometimes brutal examination of love, privilege, the meaning of home, and the horrific damage that can come to women at the hands of men. . . . It would be a spoiler to say who does the most to help Mireille out of the horrors and back into life, but there is someone. And in that memorably lovely arc, An Untamed State a novel partly about betrayal by one’s own family becomes a novel about familial redemption, too.”Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe
“A harrowing and emotionally cleareyed vision of one woman’s ordeal during and after her kidnapping in Haiti. . . remarkable . . . A cutting and resonant debut.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A searing portrait of a politically and economically divided Haiti . . . Deeply felt . . . Disturbing and frighteningly resonant.”Publishers Weekly
“Incredible and unflinching.”Jessica Valenti, The Guardian U.S.
What happens after you have been kidnapped, beaten, raped, and humiliated by a gang of armed men while your extremely wealthy father holds on to his "principles" and refuses to pay the ransom to ensure your swift release? That is the subject of this much-anticipated debut novel from Gay, already celebrated for her short stories. Mireille Jameson endures this horrific situation when she visits her impoverished homeland of Haiti with her American husband, Michael, and their young son. Led by the Commander, the kidnappers torment Mireille for her privileged life as she tries to remain unbroken. It is not until she returns to Miami that the experience truly haunts her. She becomes erratic, preferring instability over home and family. As Michael pulls away, Mireille's mother-in-law offers her comfort through a recovery fraught with insecurity, guilt, and uncertainty. VERDICT Gay brilliantly writes of the story's external events while skillfully capturing Mireille's internal anguish. Not since Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper has an author so effectively captured the descent into mental instability. This novel is recommended for lovers of literary and Caribbean fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 11/22/13.]—Ashanti White, Yelm, WA
A harrowing and emotionally cleareyed vision of one woman's ordeal during and after her kidnapping in Haiti. Gay's remarkable debut novel is mostly narrated by Mireille, who, as the story opens, is visiting her native Haiti from Miami with her husband and infant son when she's forcibly abducted by a gang and held for 13 days. She was a target because her father heads a highly profitable construction firm, and his resistance to paying ransom baffles Mireille's U.S.-born husband, Michael; meanwhile, she's repeatedly beaten and sexually assaulted by her captors. Gay's characters are engineered to open up conflicts over gender, class (Mireille's family is wealthy in a poor country) and race (Mireille is black and Michael is white). But Gay's dialogue complicates rather than simplifies these issues. As a prolific essayist and critic, Gay (Writing/Eastern Illinois Univ.) has developed a plainspoken, almost affectless style, which serves her heroine's story well: The more bluntly Gay describes Mireille's degradations, the stronger the impact. Gay's depiction of Mireille's emotional trauma after her release is particularly intense, precisely capturing her alienation from her own identity that followed the kidnapping and the self-destruction that spilled out of her sense of disconnection. The novel alternates between past and present, and flashbacks to Mireille's childhood and marriage underscore the intelligence and emotional ferocity she accessed to survive her ordeal. (She persistently supported in-laws who were initially inclined to dismiss her.) The closing chapters suggest that Mireille is on the path to recovery, but it's also clear that a true recovery is impossible; many of Gay's scenes deliberately undermine traditional novelistic methods of resolution (baking bread, acts of vengeance, acting out sexually). Among the strongest achievements of this novel is that Mireille's story feels complete and whole while emphasizing its essential brokenness. A cutting and resonant debut.
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Meet the Author
Roxane Gay’s writing has appeared in Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, NOON, The New York Times Book Review, The Rumpus, Salon, The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy culture blog, and many others including her Tumblr, roxanegay.tumblr.com. She is the co-editor of PANK and essays editor for The Rumpus. She teaches writing at Eastern Illinois University. She tweets at @rgay.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I read part one of the book. The first half was so good that I read it again before moving on to the second half. I was almost scared to read the second half...scared that the main character wouldn't mentally and emotionally survive this ordeal. I finished the book in 3 days and have been recommending it ever since. Powerful and amazing story.
I read the book in a less than a weekend. I could not put it down. A difficult subject that was written so well. This book was recommended to me and I cannot stop recommending it. I would purchase any book that this author writes in the future Brutally honest treatment of a difficult topic. Well developed characters that are hard to forget
No! Just- no! I read this book, thinking it was a true story and excused its flaws and weaknesses with that thought in mind. But it is fiction and it feels contrived. The violence is over the top, and the response of the victim doesn't make any sense, especially after her rescue. In the end, it all feels like the author just squeezed as much bizarre brutality as possible into the story and never considered what the real effect would be on the characters involved. I wish I had never read it. I will never read anything by this author again.
I find myself thinking about this book a lot. The author captured the strength of a woman during a horrific time perfectly. We are survivors. Also, I thought the author gave a nice glimpse of the many sides of Haiti. Well done!
I was highly disappointed with the level of brutality that was part of this book and the victim’s response to her capture before & after. The writer attempt to portrait the main character as a strong woman felt flat and disconnected. Another issue was the victim’s investment in protecting others and then blaming them for not being there for her; it didn’t make sense. Lastly, the end was so badly written who in their right mind would follow their abuser & confronts him after all she allegedly went through by herself. The book felt disjointed. The book or the writer should have prepared a better ending and illustrated a better course of a victim passage as she was recovering from rape!
I read this book when it was first published. It was an excellent read. At the time of reading this book, I felt the main characters intense and desperate desire to be free of what plagued her. I was captivated by the sheer stripping away of the main characters integrity, feminism and humanity. I recommend this book to others who will open their minds to the story they are about to read.
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.
It's been a long time, since I read a Novel I couldn't stop reading. It took me right along side of Miri as she went through each stage of her life and kidnapping. I cried and could relate to some of her family situations. Emotions were high in this Novel. I very much wanted more when the story ended. Great read!
This is an unforgettable book. I loved Roxane Gay's writing in Ayiti, and here she is even stronger. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down. Mireille, the main character, is powerful and compelling, even when she is most broken. I've never read a character like this, and Gay draws her with such mercy and precision, that Mireille leaps out of the pages and runs across the room. She's one of those characters you don't forget. Ever. I can't say enough to praise this book, the storyline, the characters, the writing. Phenomenal.
This was a well written story. A powerful voice on sexual violence against women for political/economic gains. It is a story that could be told anywhere into today's climate. While the book is a work of fiction it rings true for some many women.