An Untamed State

I was a shell of myself when I finished this book. I read the last 1/4 in the gym, on a stationary bike, where I found myself peddling faster to keep myself from exploding with tears. To keep my body from reacting with the visceral force that I was feeling from Mireille’s description of her recovery.

This book started at 10 and only went up from there. Roxane Gay doesn’t give the reader a break. She throws us into the fray and handcuffs us to the protagonist for the length of the novel. Thinking about how much sexual violence women are subject to only deepens how serious this book is. 13 days of captivity, 5 years of recovery and a life changed becomes all the more staggering when you consider that something like 1 in 3 American women is sexually abused at some point in her life. That amounts to so many years living a life that these women never chose to live, could never prepare for and can’t freely leave behind.

Reading books like this, building empathy for victims of violence, understanding what women might feel carrying these heavy weights is difficult work. But I strongly believe it is necessary work. I have many friends, especially in my well-to-do, well-educated, highly busy peer group who would much rather avoid reading something like this. It is difficult to spend time dealing with these strong emotions. I found myself feeling that way a couple of times during this book, but then I thought about this Kafka quote –

You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.


The only reason this didn’t make it into the echelons of best debut novels is because it lacked certain higher order literary devices. It was hard for me to find literary devices employed throughout the book. The book felt more like a well created hollywood blockbuster rather than an auteur’s attempt at engaging with the genre, or the medium in some serious way. But not everything needs to do that, and what this book attempted to do, to stir up some feelings, it did very well.