Monday, March 02, 2015

An Untamed State (by Roxane Gay)

With this, I have read five books for the Tournament of Books. I may have time to squeeze in one more before the end of the first round; we'll see.

This book was difficult to put down and I tore through it in two days. It's the story of a Haitian-American who, on a visit home to her parents, is kidnapped and brutalized for two weeks. It flashes between her captivity, her relationship with her husband "before," and her attempts to deal with "after." It is not an easy book to read, as you can imagine.

Reading this immediately after Americanah, though, it suffered in comparison. I felt it lacked subtlety. I don't mean that the plot is too dramatic, but I mean in its depiction of the characters, who are never quite fully-realized, and its depiction of Haiti, which also feels somewhat limited. If I had read these two novels in the opposite order, I may not have felt this way.

The central relationship of the novel is that between Mirielle and her husband Michael. They seem to have a terrible relationship in every way--before she's kidnapped, it's just fighting (neither one comes across well) and sex. After she's kidnapped, it's like his assholishness reaches new heights. It's kind of cathartic, but it's also hard to care about him at all except that you kind of want him to suffer. Mirielle is seriously flawed too, but in compelling ways; she's a much better character.

The ending, too, I had some issues with, as it seemed a bit too pat in certain ways. Vague spoilers ahead, RSS readers. I found it difficult to believe in the whole Emma situation, and the scene at the restaurant wasn't exactly implausible but again was an example of the lack of subtlety I felt throughout.

I know I'm saying a lot of negative stuff about what is, in the end, a very powerful novel. But I'm just trying to put my finger on why, despite its raw power, it didn't fully work for me.

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Blogger Beth said...

I felt about the same way, which kind of broke my heart because I love Roxane Gay. But I didn't think it was a very good book, for exactly those reasons: lack of subtlety and flat characters. I also found the writing to be irritatingly clunky, which is odd because her essays are so good.

3:35 PM  

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