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.