The backstory: An Untamed State is a 2015 finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and was on the 2014 First Novel Prize longlist.
The basics: "Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men, in front of her father’s Port au Prince estate. Held captive by a man who calls himself The Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As it becomes clear her father intends to resist the kidnappers, Mireille must endure the torments of a man who resents everything she represents." (publisher)
My thoughts: I knew going into this novel that it was about a kidnapping, yet I did not expect the opening scene to be the kidnapping. The initial pace of this novel left me breathless in the best way. Gay is an ambitious storyteller. Again and again, she pushes the reader to the brink. As I listened, I found myself wondering, "how much more can I take?" as Mireille endured physical, psychological, and emotional pain. Blessedly, Gay gives her readers the break Mireille cannot have. During the thirteen days of Mireille's captivity, Gay breaks up the present with glimpses into Mireille's past, including the early days of her relationship with her husband. For a novel that at times seems unrelentingly grim, there are beautiful moments of hope, joy and anticipation. That Gay can balance these two is impressive. The reader has another advantage of Mireille: we know from very early on that her captivity will last only thirteen days. By infusing a specific end point, along with the seed that Mireille will find a way out, Gay keeps this story from being
Audio thoughts: Robin Miles is an experienced narrator. I appreciated the accents she gave to the Haitian characters. Initially, her narration took some getting used to, as at times she has an affectation that can be distracting. Yet as the novel continued, and as Mireille encountered horrors, Miles' performance grew on me. She was unflinching, and listening to this book meant I couldn't escape. She also infused a beautiful combination of strength and weakness into her characters. She excels at capturing emotion. Ultimately, I'm glad I opted to listen to this book.
Favorite passage: "A different accident of birth could put you in my place."
The verdict: An Untamed State is a beautiful, confident, and haunting novel. It has a thrilling plot that reads like a mystery. It has beautifully formed, flawed, characters. It offers nuanced insight into Haiti. By telling a story about one person and one family, Gay sheds light on many larger themes that resonated deeply with me.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 11 hours 35 minutes (368 pages)
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy An Untamed State from Amazon (Kindle edition.)
Want more? Visit Roxane Gay's website, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.
As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!