An Untamed State by Roxane Gay should be issued with a warning. It is a deeply troubling and powerfully written novel. It recounts the tale of Miri’s kidnapping and captivity while she is visiting her parents in Haiti with her husband and son, and her attempt to return to a normal American life afterwards. It is utterly heartbreaking, not least because much of it is written in the first person and feels like a memoir, not a novel.
I had troubles sticking with An Untamed State, but I’m glad I did. At about page 100 the violence gets so brutal that I didn’t think I could go on. Shannon at River City Reading encouraged me to keep going. The second half of the novel deals with Miri’s attempt to return to her pre-kidnapping life. To me, this was the most important part of the novel because of how it portrayed PTSD. Quite naturally, Miri is wounded in ways that are not readily apparent to the eye. Her constant state of fear is palpable.
Gay’s writing throughout the novel is unflinching. I know that is often used as a cliche, but it is absolutely true in this case. The horrors she portrays are not something you want to read about, but are things that we need to acknowledge happen. This book will take you out of the safe middle class life you are living and place you in the shoes of someone else. I was seriously concerned that I would have problems sleeping at night after reading An Untamed State.
Who would like this book? I hesitate to recommend An Untamed State to anyone, in spite of the fact that it is brilliantly executed. The subject matter is so troubling and vividly depicted that it leaps off the page. For anyone who has endured personal violence or rape, it may well be too much to handle. That being said, I also believe it is an important book, especially in the way it deals with PTSD. Along similar lines, just today on Pickle Me This I came across her review of One Hour in Paris by Karyn Freedman. It looks at sexual violence and the lasting psychological damage in inflicts by drawing on her own rape and moving to a wider frame by looking at it in the worldwide context. Both books remind us that just because a subject is difficult, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be explored.
An Untamed State at time also reminded me of News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, which explores a series of kidnappings at the hands of the Medellin Drug Cartel in Columbia. I read this book a good fifteen years ago, but from what I remember, there was much less violence.
I received a copy of the book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.