An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

I finished An Untamed State by Roxane Gay a couple of weeks ago. I wrote a review. It was an intense experience. This is my review, it’s a bit chaotic, because I’m me. But I really liked the book.

The book
This is about Mireille, a Haitian-American woman who is kidnapped when she goes to Haiti for her vacation. Her father is rich and rich people are often kidnapped and held for ransom and released quickly. Her father refuses to pay the ransom and Mireille spends 13 days in captivity. She is held by a man who calls himself the Commander, who hates her and everything she represents, and when her father won’t pay he takes out his frustrations on her in every horrible way you can think of. The book also tells the story of Mireille’s life before she was kidnapped, how she met her husband and how they got together and got married.

I really loved it. It’s obviously grim and painful, because of the subject matter, but it’s so beautifully written, and the love story between Mireille and Michael is also very beautiful.

Okay. Let’s do this. When Mireille is kidnapped there is a gang of men, I think there are somewhere between five and ten guys, who take her. She is taken to a house they presumably own, and she is kept there. She knows what’s happening, Haiti is her country, and she know how this usually goes down. Therefore she is expecting to be released pretty quickly, and not actually to be treated badly. When she hears the sum her kidnappers are asking for she knows her dad won’t pay and she is terrified, but also resigns herself to her fate, and knows what she has to endure, and what she has to do to stay herself.

The scenes detailing Mireille’s abuse, are so horrible to read. Roxane Gay keeps the focus on Mireille, she doesn’t focus on the abusers, which sometimes happens (looking at you Game of Thrones). It also means it’s horrible because we have to live the abuse with her. But I love that she does that too, because it’s so well done and so important, and it was painful, and incredible.

I really loved the way it was structured. The book is split into different parts, one during her captivity, and one part of her life after. The chapters during her captivity usually start with her being in captivity and detailing something awful that happens. Then they shifted into something in Mireille’s backstory, how she met her husband, and how they became a couple and got married.

It also tells the story of Haiti in a way. It talks about Haiti and how it’s full of rich culture, and rich people who have come home and are trying to rebuild Haiti, but not necessarily helping the people of Haiti. It’s also a poor place, with dirt-poor people, who see very few ways of getting money, and getting out. And it looks at how these people interact and how they live together.

I really loved reading about Haiti. It’s a place I know very little about. I want to read more about Haiti and more literature from Haiti. It was incredibly fascinating to read about Haiti and how it was beautiful and sort of tragic.

I really loved Mireille. She was fierce and tough and an amazing fighter. I think that there were a lot of things about her that will annoy you as well. She’s almost too fierce. She’s very opinionated and she is angered very quickly. She’s passionate, and furious, and she often runs away when she’s angry with Michael. I also feel like she got angry with him very easily. I’m not saying she got too easily angry all the time. Michael is a sweet, privileged, corn fed, kind man, but has never really met any hardship, and when he does he shuts down and gets angry and doesn’t know how to fix it and then gets angry at others that they’re not fine.

I got really furious with Michael for not having the imagination to guess what happened to Mireille when she was held captive. I realize he’s probably trying to protect himself and he doesn’t want anything to have happened, so he just pretends nothing happened. It made me angry, because he didn’t seem to understand that Mireille couldn’t just snap out of it. He, and her family, didn’t get why she couldn’t see the doctor. I loved his family, his mother and father, for being better people than him and telling him off for how he was acting.

I really thought Mireille’s reaction to what happened was amazing. She basically just tried to run away and ignore her problems. I obviously haven’t been kidnapped and abused, but it feels like a very true and real reaction. She tries to take back her power and her self-control. She tries to take back her sexual power and be in charge again, and she has no idea how, and she also seems terrified of asking for help, because they’d have to touch her, and she can’t cope with that.

I really liked that we saw the release of Mireille. Sabrina from unmanagedmischief pointed out that similar novels are only about the captivity. And not about the release and the after, but this one does. It seems better this way. Because whenever I watch like… Criminal Minds, say, I always wonder how the victims/survivors deal with what happened. Because it’s clearly not just okay and over. And I enjoyed that we got to see how Mireille dealt with it, and how she and her husband moved on. This isn’t too spoiler-y, by the way, she mentions almost right away during her captivity that there is an after.

The novel is mainly told from Mireille’s perspective in first person. Sometimes it’s told from Michael’s perspective, or from Mireille’s father’s perspective. I can’t remember his name. Anyway. It bugged me, not because I don’t want to know what they’re thinking or doing, but because I’m a jackass about consistency. If you pick a writing style, including a perspective, you have put a constraint on yourself. You have chosen a limitation. So you have to stick to it. I’m sorry, but you can’t just do what you want, there would be chaos. I realize I’m being weird, and that sometimes it’s not just feasible, but this really annoys me.  You picked a style, stay in your lane. I also realize this is my own weirdness, and I try not to hold it against writer, because I’m clearly weird, it just bugged me. By the way, authors can do what they want, who cares about me, it just annoys me.

It’s incredible, and beautiful. It’s almost weird how beautiful it is, it feels so wrong compared to how ugly the subject matter is. I’ve also read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and I look forward to reading more of her books.