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An Untamed State Paperback – May 6, 2014
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*Starred Review* While we give merely cursory thought to what the kidnappings of the wealthy in impoverished nations might entail, rising star Gay exposes the full horror of this intimate crime and stealthy weapon of social decimation in her superbly written and excoriating first tale of terror and suspense. Set in Haiti, where Gay, the child of Haitian immigrants, spent her summers, the novel opens with Miami-based attorney Mirelle visiting her rich and influential parents with Michael, her white Nebraskan husband, and their baby son. The family is heading to the beach when they’re ambushed by men with machine guns, who drag Mirelle away. Sharp-tongued and aggressive under normal circumstances, Mirelle is furious, though she believes this “business transaction” will be quickly completed. Instead, her proud and ruthless father refuses to pay the ransom, and she stubbornly refuses to beg. Her enraged captors retaliate with an endless siege of rape and torture. Gay contrasts the brutality of the present with the romantic past as traumatized yet stoic Mirelle remembers her and Michael’s rocky courtship, unlikely love, and the reactions of their very different families. Gay is a daring and transfixing storyteller, depicting with valor and deep intent hellishly intrusive violence, shocking betrayal, and psychological devastation, the poison fruits of prejudice, injustice, greed, and desperation. Ferocious, gripping, and unforgettable. --Donna Seaman
Longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
[A] commanding début . . . Mireille’s struggle to maintain a sense of self while being denied her freedom produces the novel’s most powerful chapters.”New Yorker
Roxane Gay’s riveting debut, An Untamed State, captivates from its opening sentence and doesn’t let go. . . . Let this be the year of Roxane Gay: you’ll tear through An Untamed State, but ponder it for long after.”Nolan Feeney, Time.com
A fairy tale . . . its complex and fragile moral arrived at through great pain and high cost. . . . Perhaps Haiti, too, is a beautiful princess, well-versed in the vagaries of men, still searching for a happily ever after.” Holly Bass, The New York Times Book Review
Poignant . . . haunting . . . When Mireille is finally freed, her rocky adjustment harkens to that of the mother in Emma Donoghue's Room. . . . Gay writes of her homeland beautifully, describing it in the conflicting, nuanced way that will ring familiar to Americans whose parents hail from troubled lands. . . . Gorgeous writing . . . A wonderful and affecting read.”Rasha Madkour, Associated Press
Gay may be working in territory many American readers know through the lyrical stories of Edwidge Danticat, but her style is wholly her own: direct, bracing and propulsive. . . . [A] smart, searing novel.” Ron Charles, The Washington Post
To say that An Untamed State tells the story’ of Mireille Duval Jameson - an American lawyer, wife, and new mother, who, while visiting her Haitian parents in Port Au Prince, falls victim to the wave of kidnappings plaguing that city - would be inadequate. Rather, Gay compels her readers to breathe and bleed [it]. . . . Brutally and vividly rendered.” Abby Frucht, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Bold . . . A terrific read. . . . The character development of Gay’s protagonist, Mireille, is particularly well-crafted and nuanced; her portrayal of a woman who fights her strongest fight to resist being defeated by her captors is compelling and agonizingly felt by the reader. . . . This novel . . . will reward the reader.” Jim Carmin, Minneapolis Star Tribune
I applaud Gay’s courage: She writes candidly, vividly, and necessarily . . . You will find it difficult to resist her flawless pacing [and] sharp, clear prose.” Ariel Gonzalez, The Miami Herald
Set in Haiti, Roxane Gay’s first novel, An Untamed State, is a roundhouse kick to notions of privilege.” Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair (Hot Type)
Wrenching . . . Vividly written.” Jennifer Weiner, USA Today
Clear your schedule now! Once you start this book, you will not be able to put it down. An Untamed State is a novel of hope intermingled with fear. . . . It is written at a pace that will match your racing heart.”Edwidge Danticat, author of Claire of the Sea Light
A gripping psychological portrait of how trauma remakes the body to respond only to itself . . . Fans of Gay’s work as an editor at The Rumpus and a columnist for Salon (among other places) will see a lush, sensual side to her writing here, turned to describe brutal facts of subjugation and punishment, the agony of waiting to be rescued and the protection of the brain." Ellen Wernecke, The Onion AV Club
Harrowing: truly, it harrows. With iron teeth it pulls up things that do not want to be pulled up. . . . Remarkable.” NPR
Excellent . . . Brilliant, eye opening, and necessary. . . . Gay’s prose is direct and muscular, unflinchingly confronting the reality she’s created. . . . To call it hard to put down’ is an understatement; I lost sleep over it, and won’t forget it anytime soon.” Alison Hallett, Portland Mercury
[Roxane Gay] has written one of the most unsettling books of the year. And she’s just getting started. . . . Dark, gripping . . . It’s a compelling and at times painful read that addresses the issues of economic privilege, immigration, and sexual assault.” Tomi Obaro, Chicago Magazine
A gripping tale of a young mother ensnared in Haiti’s explosive class struggle.” Natalie Beach, O Magazine (15 Titles to Pick Up Now”)
An Untamed State is breathless, artful, disturbing and original. I won’t ever forget it.” Meg Wolitzer, author of The Interestings
Poised to affect anyone who reads the book. . . . Gay weaves a story that is thrilling and readable and, surprisingly, incredibly enjoyable. It is, ultimately, about survival, but walking away from the story unaffectedboth the reader and the characters withinis impossible.” Jessi Cape, The Austin Chronicle
There are times when reading a novel is painful. Not because the prose is lacking or the narrative lags, but because the subject matter verges on the unbearable. Roxane Gay’s debut novel, An Untamed State, falls under this last category. And yet, you must read it anyway. For beyond missing out on a story of such emotional power, you will miss out, as well, on this emerging writer’s abundant talent and insight, all on stunning display here. . . . An Untamed State is a rich, beautifully crafted novel, which should establish Roxane Gay as a writer who has something important to say and who knows how to say it.” Susan Buttenwieser, The Brooklyn Rail
An Untamed State is the kind of book you have to keep putting down because you can’t believe how good it is. Awesome, powerful, impossible to ignore, Roxane Gay is a literary force of nature. An Untamed State arrives like a hurricane.” Mat Johnson, author of Pym
Roxane Gay is a rockstar talent who’s already left her mark on the literary world, and her dazzling debut novel is certain to cement her place. . . . [a] haunting tale.” Morgan Ribera, Bustle (May 2014’s Best Books”)
Riveting.” Anjali Enjeti, Paste Magazine (The Best Novels of 2014 (So Far)”)
[A] startling debut novel . . . There are no easy answers to be found in An Untamed State, and Gay, in elegant, fierce, poetic prose that evokes early-career Margaret Atwood, forces her characters to reach across all borders to find some final sense of reason. It’s a hard-won discovery, surely, but one absolutely worth the journey. This is a novel not easily forgotten.” Tod Goldberg, Las Vegas Weekly (4/5 stars)
An Untamed State is a harrowing, suspenseful novel about the connections between sexual violence and political rage, narrated in a voice at once traumatized and eerily controlled. Roxane Gay is a remarkable writer, an astute observer of Haitian society and a deeply sympathetic, unflinching chronicler of the compromises people make in order to survive under the most extreme conditions.” Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children and Nine Inches
[A] riveting debut novel . . . There is such a staggering sense of strength, confidence and integrity to Gay's telling. . . . An Untamed State is a gem, blasted into beauty by the world's harshest conditions. This gripping debut has set the table for many great works to come.” Margaret Wappler, Bookforum
[A] superbly written and excoriating first tale of terror and suspense . . . Gay is a daring and transfixing storyteller. . . . Ferocious, gripping, and unforgettable.” Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
From the astonishing first line to the final scene, An Untamed State is magical and dangerous. I could not put it down. Pay attention to Roxane Gay; she’s here to stay.” Tayari Jones, author of Silver Sparrow and Leaving Atlanta
Harrowing . . . It’s terrifying, this novel, but heartbreaking, because [Mireille’s] relationships are part of the dilemma. . . . I felt this powerfully.” John Freeman, BOMB
Gay brilliantly writes of the story’s external events while skillfully capturing Mireille’s internal anguish.”Library Journal (starred review)
A simmering, sometimes brutal examination of love, privilege, the meaning of home, and the horrific damage that can come to women at the hands of men. . . . It would be a spoiler to say who does the most to help Mireille out of the horrors and back into life, but there is someone. And in that memorably lovely arc, An Untamed State a novel partly about betrayal by one’s own family becomes a novel about familial redemption, too.”Laura Collins-Hughes, The Boston Globe
A harrowing and emotionally cleareyed vision of one woman’s ordeal during and after her kidnapping in Haiti. . . remarkable . . . A cutting and resonant debut.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A searing portrait of a politically and economically divided Haiti . . . Deeply felt . . . Disturbing and frighteningly resonant.”Publishers Weekly
Incredible and unflinching.”Jessica Valenti, The Guardian U.S.
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Then comes the aftermath . . . the Once Upon a Time section. Miri also refers to this period in her life as "the after."This part was almost as hard ti read as the beginning. Miri feels abandoned by her father and her husband because it took so long to get her back. She has severe PTSD and feels afraid, even in her own home. Some of the decisions she makes are hard to swallow, but easy to understand given what she has been through. Miri is fighting to get her life back. She feels she has died during her captivity so the second half of the book is about Miri coming back to life. This tests her marriage and her family in a way that has never been tested before. I cried during the second half of the book. When I finished the book, I has to take a few deep breaths. This was such a masterpiece! It was so brutal, yet beautifully written. I really can't think of one thing to change.
Here are several powerful quotes from the book:
"They held me captive for thirteen days.
They wanted to break me.
It was not personal.
I was not broken.
This is what I tell myself."
"I made my choice. There is nothing you cannot do when you are no one."
"This is what I know -- the body is built to survive. An unknown energy pulsed just beneath my skin. I whispered, "I will survive this.""
""Your mother did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like my father," I said, "I did not deserve the unwanted attentions of a man like you. It is often women who pay the price for what men want.""
I really think this was one of my favorite books this year, if not the best.
The novel is intense and almost exhausting to read - from the impressive opening lines to the closing incident that reminds the narrator that healing from such a life destroying traumatic event is fraught with setbacks and moments that can send her right back to survival mode. While I often read more than one book at a time, I found that I almost had to pick something else up to get a break from the unrelenting nature of the novel, to have the space to process and then return again.
The title echoes the nature of the violence, poverty, and corruption of Haiti as well as the mental and emotional state of the narrator throughout the novel. Despite the presentation of poverty setting the dynamic that leads to kidnappings, the perpetrators are not excused, not drawn as sympathetic. That they do not distinguish between the privileged of Haiti whose wealth is from corruption and those who earned their life through hard work argues that the kidnappers talk of the injustice of their world, but are nothing more than opportunistic thugs that use violence and power to gain money and are just as corrupt and immoral as those they rail against.
Between the harrowing moments of the kidnapping, we learn the story of Mireille, her family, and her love and marriage to Michael, a Nebraskan farm boy -- Mireille's family calls him Mr. America. This provides the before and after of Mireille's life, the person she was, and the person she was forced to be to survive. The format gives the reader space to breath, to digest, to recover from the relentless destruction of a woman.
The novel does not end with her release. The reader follows the days and weeks, the months, and eventually years of Mireille's journey to be whole, to find who she is, to find not just a reason to live, but life worth living. Mireille's climb from the place where she cannot remember her own name or those she once loved because it was easier to survive as 'no one' to place where she feels safe and loved is as brutal a journey as her captivity.
Interestingly, it is not the husband, or her own family that serve as her anchor, but her mother-in-law, Lorraine. Through Mireille's memories, she is portrayed as the negatives of the stereotype of the midwestern farm-wife. All is not as it seems in this novel, nothing is simple, none of the questions it poises have easy answers.
Gay's writing isn't lyrical, the novel, not perfect, but both are powerful.
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You are literally on the edge of your seat the entire time you are reading it.Read more