Monday, February 6, 2023

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay


Wow, if this isn't made into a Netflix miniseries soon, somebody's sleeping at their desk. This had everything I love in fiction-- a strong and flawed female protagonist, a dark storyline, breakneck pacing, and even a little romance. I'm keeping AN UNTAMED STATE on my Kindle forever as a reminder of what good writing looks like, because whoa. My feelings have been put into a blender and thoroughly shaken.

AN UNTAMED STATE is about the daughter of one of Haiti's wealthiest businessmen. She is a lawyer and a success in her own right, married to a white man who is the son of farmers. Once, she helped take care of his mother while she was recovering from cancer. His mother was an ignorant and proud woman, but her brush with death and her love of her son made her love Mireille too. Now, she and her new baby and her husband are in Haiti, and she is slowly getting her husband to love the country she has been taught to love.

And then she gets kidnapped.

And her father refuses to pay the price the men who have taken her are asking.

The story is told in two parts: during and after. One is a traditional thriller story of survival and bravery. The other is a story of healing and recovery. Mireille and her husband, Michael, are the narrators. I don't want to say too much more because of spoilers, but the things that Mireille endures at the hands of her captors is brutal. It reminded me a lot of the dark erotica, BREAK HER. Through torture, Mireille learns a lot about her own ability to survive and endure. She is reduced to an untamed state, which could also refer to Haiti itself: a place of beauty that, in her privilege, she has always glimpsed through rose-tinted glasses, unable to see the poverty and the desperation that can make mortal men so cruelly desperate.

This book has triggers for virtually everything but it is so deftly handled and such a starkly brilliant portrayal of humanity at its best and worst that nothing felt sensational. I love Gay's nonfiction and felt only lukewarm about her fictional short story collection that I read, but this book was absolutely masterful. I seriously can't even find the words to explain how much I loved this and why, but I know it's probably going to end up being one of my favorite books of the year. It's that good.

5 out of 5 stars

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