An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

untamedstateAn Untamed State (Grove Atlantic, May 6th, 2014)-During a visit to Haiti, the country of her parent’s birth, Mireille Jameson, her husband Michael, and young son Christophe, are just emerging from the gates of her parent’s estate, on their way to the beach for the day, when armed men surround them and take Mireille away. The kidnappers want a cool million dollars to return Mireille to her family. Should be easy, right? After all, her father, has made a fortune in construction, not only in the States, but in Haiti. Mireille tells herself that this will all be over soon and she will be back home. Her father, however, refuses to pay the ransom, triggering outrage from Michael and incredulity in Mireille that her father will not pay to get her out of the hell that she’s been thrust into. Mireille narrates most of the story, with asides from Michael’s point of view, and she makes it clear in the beginning that she’s held for 13 days. Doesn’t seem like very long, does it? Not to us, not to someone that’s never been held captive. However, to Mireille, it’s an eternity, and what happens to her at the hands of the men that hold her captive is unspeakable. Her father’s refusal to pay the ransom is infuriating and shocking. What father wouldn’t save his daughter if he had the means? Although he does have his “reasons”, which become clearer in the last half of the book, it does nothing to excuse him.

While An Untamed State reads, at times, like a thriller, it’s much more than that. Mireille’s narrative takes us from her ordeal to her childhood visits to Haiti with her family, discovering a country both beautiful and wild, and back to when she first met Michael and their unlikely, yet strangely charming courtship. Mireille’s intense love for Michael and Christophe is part of what drives her will to survive, while at the same time, she begins to emotionally deaden herself in order to endure the transgressions being committed against her physical body. Her descent into madness is near complete at the end of the 13 days, and her ordeal does not end when her tormentors release her. In fact, the second half of the novel is Mireille’s attempt to claw her way out of the dark and remember who she is, even if she can never go back to being who she was.

An Untamed State is a phenomenal novel, and while it is certainly Mireille’s story, it doesn’t ignore Michael’s struggle as he comes to terms with Mireille’s ordeal and tries to find his way back into a heart that has been so critically damaged. There is not a quick and happy ending here, but there is hope, and to find hope after such a harrowing and terrifying struggle, is a precious thing indeed. This was not an easy read at times, but it’s an important one.


  1. This sounds incredible, and deeply disturbing. I got so sucked into the plot just from your description…

    • Thanks, Amanda! Some passages are very hard to read because of the situation, but it’s never gratuitous, and although it’s heartbreaking, her will to survive is very inspiring. It’s certainly worth our time!

Comments are closed