Roxane Gay’s debut novel is about a woman kidnapped for ransom, her captivity as her father refuses to pay and her husband fights for her release over thirteen days, and her struggle to come to terms with the ordeal in its aftermath.
Contemporary tellings tend to mask the real horrors of the original Brothers Grimm stories and their ilk...Roxane Gay’s striking debut novel, An Untamed State, is a fairy tale in this vein, its complex and fragile moral arrived at through great pain and high cost … After Mireille’s captors release her, the book follows her attempts to piece herself back together. The ‘near-perfect recall’ that once let her pull up detailed memories of eating fresh sugarcane and Haitian fudge now works against her. In her traumatized state, present and recent past blur … Gay avoids the pat outcome of a Disney tale and, in an emotional and unforeseen twist, does the Grimms one better. In this fable, the princess and a wicked witch relate to each other as real women do, and ultimately rescue each other.
Owing to the power of Gay’s prose, the immediacy of the narrator’s voice and the graphic nature of this ordeal, it’s some of the most emotionally exhausting material I’ve ever read … In An Untamed State, she considers questions of class, parental responsibility and especially sex as a weapon of terror in a fantastically exciting novel … it’s easy to imagine An Untamed State pleading for the moral innocence of desperately poor people who have no options except crime and extortion … But the boundless savagery of Mireille’s kidnappers soon makes any kind of sociological apology for their behavior sound obscene. Despite the beatings she receives for talking back, she shreds her captors’ pompous class-warfare cant, refusing to let them imagine that the injustices they’ve suffered absolve them.
Dedicating the book to ‘women, the world over,’ Gay unflinchingly explores the hostility directed at her privileged character … Stubborn, fiery, and prone to swallowing her emotions before her kidnapping, Mireille is a difficult character for the reader to embrace. Her tough, at times dogmatic, viewpoint is even built into the direct and unequivocal prose, which can feel stifling for its lack of nuance. But it's the braver choice for the book to pick a thorny character to handle this ordeal … 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.