From the publisher:
A Haitian American woman survives a brutal kidnapping in this “commanding debut novel” from the New York Times–bestselling author of Bad Feminist (The New Yorker).
Author and essayist Roxane Gay is celebrated for her incisive commentary on identity and culture, as well as for her bestselling nonfiction and short story collections. Now, with An Untamed State, she delivers a “breathtaking debut novel” (The Guardian, UK) of wealth in the face of crushing poverty, and the lawless anger produced by corrupt governments.
Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she lives in the United States with her adoring husband and infant son, returning every summer to stay on her father’s Port-au-Prince estate. But the fairy tale ends when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, just outside the estate walls. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As her father’s standoff with the kidnappers stretches out into days, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who despises everything she represents.
An Untamed State is a “breathless, artful, disturbing and original” 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 (Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings).
I needed days. Days to recover from this book. It is not a book for the faint of heart. I’m only going to say this – if you are a sexual abuse survivor, heed all the warnings, because this book is not written to be comfortable and easy. It is made to confront and challenge the dominant narrative about women’s subjugation and abuse at the hands of a patriarchal society and what it takes, at the level of individual and culture to recover from that.
I’m not going to waste my time on review and summary. I had to walk away, cry, and bite my fist to get through parts of it. There’s a telling sentence in this novel – it’s the women who bear the price of what men want. The protagonist bears it all during 13 days of captivity, and spends the novel after her experience returning from a personal hell that renders politeness and easy conversation impossible. PTSD is depicted, not in a superficial way, but in all its terrifying implications. Gay has taken the powerlessness of victimhood and womanhood and augmented it a thousand times, forcing the reader to stay with Marielle during the entire ordeal. The signs are written into Mireille’s body and soul and the reader is not spared one moment of her torture.
Besides being intensely personal, Marielle’s trauma is also useful metaphor for the trauma that the Caribbean islands have experienced at the hands of the West. But make no mistake – while Gay also puts on striking display the way history has victimized the island of Haiti, this does not distance the reader from the intensely personal and visceral consequences of Marielle’s captivity and abuse. We are not allowed to use pat cultural narratives to anesthetize us against what as many as 1 in 5 women will experience at some point in their lives, experiences we are told repeatedly that we are responsible for, that are not as bad as we say they are. She shows rape, trauma and recovery in all its unmitigated horror. Nothing in this novel spares us from this truth.
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