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Glennon Doyle's 'Untamed' finds power in the uncomfortable

a devil's bookshelf

4/5 Blue Devils 

It is reductionist to say that self-help books are too regimented and clinical. Of course, there are books that enforce a how to tone or a certain sense of this is what you must do, but many others are less instructive and more descriptive. Glennon Doyle’s “Untamed” is a deeply personal 328-page confession. Rather than suggesting readers closely follow her steps, Doyle chooses to express what worked for her. As she narrates her own complex story, Doyle uses her memoir to motivate and inspire her readers. 

Doyle has lived an unremarkably remarkable life. Her struggles are not unique, her triumphs are ordinary and her everyday experiences are just that — everyday. What is individual, however, is her approach to finding the magical moments in the mundane. After struggling with bulimia from the age of ten, battling substance abuse and being cheated on by her husband, Doyle’s past is riddled with insecurity and despair. However, her times of darkness are far outnumbered by her moments in the light. At the age of 26, Doyle was faced with a positive pregnancy test. This plastic stick contained a masked message: she desperately needed to care for herself before she could care for another human. Throughout the memoir, momentary yet monumental vignettes such as these illustrate that our most restrictive limits are oftentimes self-imposed. 

I appreciate Doyle’s descriptions of the phases of her life for their nuances and tensions between them. An impressively honest memoir, “Untamed” is unashamed to tell everything like it is. Doyle shows readers that life is an ongoing balance of coloring in the lines all while scribbling around them. Nothing is easy about reconciling our external expectations with internal feelings. 

For example, Doyle has reclaimed her body from an eating disorder and has since become sober. She has also worked to forge a friendship with her unfaithful ex-husband, as well as come out late in life to her fans, friends and family. In her vivid descriptions of life’s trying times, there is limited simplicity in each scenario. Doyle is candid about her awkward and clumsy path to find her own footing; she champions the notion that necessary and durable change most often comes from confronting the expected. By doing so, she demonstrates her willingness to have uncomfortable conversations. 

Even though “Untamed” can and should be read by audiences across many ages, I found it especially relevant as a college-age woman. Doyle consistently relates to her audience. She never embellishes her words or acts superior, but instead speaks as if she is a close friend. Her chapters are like conversations, and although Doyle’s readers cannot respond through the text, the narrative remains an exchange that is never one-sided. The matter-of-fact approach in “Untamed,” coupled with Doyle’s experience in life coaching, book talks and spiritual conversations as a Christian woman, all help to form her refreshing perspective. As someone who embraces her own struggles, she underscores that confidence is a muscle that takes great practice to flex.

Although the tone of the memoir is casual and comfortable, Doyle guides her readers with keys and themes. Although they can often be broad, this tendency liberates readers and redistributes the power dynamic between them and Doyle. Rather than preaching and enforcing, Doyle urges readers to take advantage of their personal thoughts, emotions and beliefs and to use them as a personal lens. The narrative is reflective of daily struggles and celebrations that we all share in our own ways. 

As I read this memoir, I became cognizant of just how much Doyle shares about her life in intimate detail. For example, she describes the difficulties of childhood and growing up through her own children’s school and home life. As I read these scenes, I thought about my own childhood, and questions began circling in my thoughts: What does consent look like when you are writing about your own family? What do you do when your lived experiences are so deeply intertwined with someone else?

For Doyle, descriptions of difficult conversations and experiences are paramount to narrating her and her family’s far from perfect life. The discomfort a reader might feel from her raw emotion and bold claims is a productive experience. In fact, one of the most obvious merits of Doyle’s sincerity is that imperfection slowly becomes the new normal. Doyle encourages readers to follow their gut instincts and be anything but tamed. 

Equally revealing as it is empowering, “Untamed” is a dialogic exchange between Doyle and her readers. Yet, this structure leaves the memoir without a clear shape as it floats between topics. I was often interested and invested, but then subsequently stranded in thought as the subject quickly shifted. There is no doubt that this is intentional and purposeful, but the memoir would benefit from more specificity on many of the important ideas she shares. This is only a compliment to Doyle, and perhaps can only be mended with a fourth memoir. 

Above all, Doyle’s writing is flexible and never stagnant. She simultaneously builds convincing arguments, questions herself and reconstructs her own thoughts. She shows that although she is admirably self-aware, her flaws consistently remain. An insightful piece for countless readers, “Untamed” stresses that our relationship with ourselves is an intricate project — and gift — in progress. 

Bates Crawford is a Trinity junior. Her book column, “A Devil’s Bookshelf,” runs bimonthly and she rates reads on a 0-5 Blue Devil scale. Bates recommends books to her fellow students for free-time reading when (or if) they have spare time in their busy Duke lives.

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