Monday, February 6, 2012
When I read Emma Donoghue's novel Room, I was able to remind myself, "This is fiction." That story, told in the voice of a young boy born to a mother held isolated by the man who kidnapped her, was unquestionably influenced by the story of Jaycee Dugard. Now Dugard has written her own story, even reading for the audio version of her memoir, A Stolen Life.
Most people became aware of at least some of her story when she was rescued after being held for incomprehensible eighteen years by the man who kidnapped her when she was eleven years old. During that time, she gave birth to two daughters, fathered by Phillip Garrido, the man who held her. Most difficult to believe, Garrido's wife Nancy was aware of her presence the whole time, even interacting with her.
Dugard explains in the beginning of the book what prompted her to tell the story, when most people can believe she would want only to put the events behind her. She explains, though, her belief that people--especially children--who are harmed by others should be encouraged to speak up, to accuse those who abuse them, not be held captive by shame they could not have avoided.
Her narrative also helps readers to understand why she never attempted the escape, even when her physical constraints were loosened. This is a story of emotional manipulation of a child and young woman. Throughout the order, she found ways to learn and, when her daughters came along, to be sure they were educated.
Like Donoghue's Room, Dugard's story doesn't end with her rescue and return to her family and to the outside world. She describes the hounding by the press, the noble actions of many of the law enforcement officers who took part in her rescue and protected her throughout those emotional early days, and the comforting reassurance of her mother's continued hope and unfailing love. These details can't overshadow Dugard's feeling that her captivity was prolonged by the failure of authorities to follow through, particularly Garrido's parole officers, who never investigated the family's backyard, where she was held.
Shortly after finishing the book, I saw the news that Elizabeth Smart, another high-profile victim of kidnapping, has announced her engagement, something she did publicly not by choice but because of pressure from the press to know and tell everything. With Dugard's experiences fresh in my memory, I wished for both these strong girls the respectful privacy they deserve as they attempt to reclaim their lives.