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May 21, 2014

Book Notes - Roxane Gay "An Untamed State"

An Untamed State

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Roxane Gay's novel An Untamed State is a powerful debut from one of our most talented writers.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Gay brilliantly writes of the story’s external events while skillfully capturing Mireille’s internal anguish. Not since Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper has an author so effectively captured the descent into mental instability."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is Roxane Gay's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, An Untamed State:


Writing An Untamed State was an intense experience because there is so much darkness to Mireille's story, so much sorrow. That isn't the whole of the novel, though. The music I listened to and put into the novel helped cut through the darkness and it helped me find the joy. Music reminded me why writing this particular story was so necessary.

"Neon Moon," Brooks & Dunn

Michael is a country boy at heart and though he and Mireille are quite different, she loves, in her own way, where Michael is from. "Neon Moon" is a quintessential country song and one I heard all the time when I lived in Nebraska. I listened to this song quite a lot as I created Michael.

"This Must Be the Place," Talking Heads

At their wedding, Michael serenades Mireille with "This Must Be the Place." I love this song and I wanted them to have this unbearably romantic moment during what they did not yet realize was already their happily ever after.

"This Woman's Work," Kate Bush

Mireille's pregnancy with her son Christophe is a difficult one and no song, to my mind, captures pregnancy, the intimacy a couple shares and the inevitable distance between them, like this lovely song. Also that piercing note Kate Bush hits gives me chills every single time. Yes, I included this song in the Book Notes I wrote for Ayiti. When I love a song, I love it hard.

"Mon Colonel," Sweet Micky

Oddly enough, Sweet Micky is the current president of Haiti but when Mireille is kidnapped, he was a popular musician. "Mon Colonel" is one of her favorite songs and during the early days of her captivity, she would sing the song to herself to distract herself, to pass the time. This is the second song I also included in my Book Notes for Ayiti. I am consistent.

"My Body Is a Cage," Peter Gabriel

The longer she was held captive, the more Mireille begins to think about cages, the more she realizes that even her body is a cage within which she has become trapped, and kept away from the life she knew, those she loved. This haunting song speaks to a haunting experience.

"Damaged," by Danity Kane

When she is released, Mireille goes to her in-laws' farm in Nebraska. One night, after an argument with Michael, she heads to a local bar where terrible Top 40 music is playing. S I imagined this scene I kept thinking that "Damaged" would be playing and Mireille would laugh a little bitterly about it as she danced.

"Rebelion," Joe Arroyo Y La Verdad

Living in Miami, Michael and Mireille do a lot of dancing in Latin nightclubs. "Rebelion" is the kind of song that would make them jump up and head to the dance floor. It's a song that is as exuberant as they are together. Yes, I have idealized this fictional couple beyond all readon. Go with it.

"Stay," by Rihanna

Toward the end of the novel, Mireille and Michael's relationship is in a difficult place. I would like to believe that this is the song they would both be thinking of as they fought for one another.

"Don't Give Up," Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel

An Untamed State is, ultimately, a novel about endurance and how endurance is made possible by hope. During her captivity and after, there are times when Mireille wants to give up but she never does. She holds on. She hopes. She survives.


Roxane Gay and An Untamed State links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Brooklyn Rail review
The A.V. Club review
Bookforum review
Chicago Tribune review
Kirkus review
Library Journal review
Miami Herald review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
Philadelphia Inquirer review
Publishers Weekly review
Time review
Washington Post review

The Atlantic interview with the author
Books and Authors interview with the author
CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Chicago Magazine profile of the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for her short story collection Ayiti.


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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