Two weeks into a new reading year and I might have already read the best book I will read in 2017.
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay is an incredible, intense, devastating, powerful, angry, imperfectly perfect book. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking a) taking this long to read it and b) taking it out from the library instead of buying it.
While on vacation in Haiti with her husband and young son, Mireille Duval Johnson is kidnapped. She is forcibly taken from her car in front of her husband and child, just outside of her parents’ compound. When her father, a wealthy developer, refuses to pay the ransom, Mireille is gang raped and tortured by her captors, until she is released 13 days later.
Light stuff right?
The first half of the book moves back and forth between Mireille’s early life, when she meets her husband, Michael, and what their life “before” looked like, and the days when she is being held, her struggle to survive and get back to Michael and her son.
The second half is the “after” when Mireille has to fight to survive each day, when she can’t look at her husband and won’t touch her son, afraid that she will taint him with her filth. It’s the struggle of a woman who for all intents and purposes died, to come back and live her new life.
This book damn near broke me. This book is ridiculously brilliant. It is unapologetic. It is furious. I loved every page even as it was breaking me apart and putting me back together in a different way. It made me cry, it made me angry, it gave me a massive book hangover that I’m not sure I will be able to recover from.
Gay has created a masterpiece. Part of the genius of this book is that Mireille is ‘difficult’. She makes no one’s life easy, least of her all of own. She is defiant, refuses to back down, wants to live her life on her own terms. But for all her ‘imperfections’, no one can argue that what happens to Mireille was brought on by Mireille, that she ‘deserved’ what happened to her. In that way, we can focus on the brutality of the trauma inflicted on her, without the distraction of the fallen woman trope.
There is no happy ending to this book. There is just survival, a life clawed back piece by piece.
I was not prepared for this book, at all. But I’m so glad I finally read it.
23 thoughts on “A book hangover: An Untamed State”
Oh wow, I got this on Kindle just the other day on a whim. I’m really interested to read it now. (Also, have you read Gay’s new book, Difficult Women? I just finished that and it is absolutely fantastic.)
Whoa, I see what you mean about this book being hard but worthwhile…
Possibly the best book review I’ve ever read. Now I want to read the book myself!
Thank you so much! I really hope you get to it.
Oh my goodness, you jumped into the thick of things with this one. I felt the same way after finishing it. Such difficult reading and yet, necessary.
Can you take a little break and watch Victoria? Or The Crown? Nothing like the Brits for quelling all emotion and “carrying on”.
So necessary. I’m so glad that I finally read this book – I’m still blown away by how good it actually was. It does not get nearly enough credit.
I’ve watched all of The Crown! And I watched the episodes of Victoria that aired. I think I like The Crown better but am willing to give Victoria more of a chance.
Eek. Now I’m scared to read it. But I will anway!
Do it. It’s so worth your time.
Saaaaaammmmmmeeeee. Ugh, I read this two years ago now and I felt every single thing. Did you just sob over her relationship with her mother in law?? Are you nervous that it’s going to be a movie but excited because Gay is writing the screenplay? Can you tell this book is very close to my heart?
YES. Mireille and Lorraine!?! That relationship was amazing. That really tore me up. So nervous about the movie, totally thrilled she’s a part of it. I really wonder how it will be received…
What! I didn’t know this was going to be a movie too. I so want to read this – I know I need to but I know it will break me a bit. I’m not ready. Why is she just so amazing?
Do not read this right now. It would not be good for you.
But yes! It is going to be a movie! I think she’s still putting the finishing touches on the screenplay so I think you have at least another year before it’ll come out. Plenty of time to get to it.
Thank god for Roxane Gay. We need her.
Wasn’t the first half one hell of a roller coaster ride?! I felt like just when I couldn’t take anymore brutality she’d switch back to the “before”, and then back again….it was just perfect. I wasn’t as big of a fan of the second half, but still loved the book overall.
The first half was so intense. You’re right – just before it would’ve been too much she pulled back to the past. Such talent.
I really appreciated the second half. She actually showed the after, she allowed Mireille to work through what happened. A lot of the time authors will end the story when the main conflict has ended. I thought it was really brave of her to show the devastation of the aftermath.
Just the kind of read you’ve been waiting for, in this reading year. Yay!
Totally! It got me really excited about books again. I haven’t found anything that comes up to the high water mark since then, but I have enjoyed the books that I’ve been reading.
Well it has to start somewhere and I’m sure you’ll find another before you long, provided you keep turning those pages. I’ve read a lot of ‘good’ stuff so far, but nothing new has truly captured my heart yet. Soon?!
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I know it wasn’t until after this book was published that Roxane Gay wrote about her own experience being gang raped when she was in high school and what it did to her. So tragic. I bought this book but haven’t yet read it.
That reminds me of reading Luckiest Girl Alive and finding out afterwards about the author’s own experience. It really colours the way you read the work when you know about the experiences that shaped it.
You HAVE to read it.
Heh, I will. I have two goals for 2017: 1) reading positive representations of fat women in fiction and nonfiction, and 2) reading books I already own written by black women. That puts Roxane Gay in the goals!
Roxane Gay should always be goals.
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