This was an incredibly tough read. For some reason, when I pulled A Stolen Life off the shelf at my local library, I subconsciously classified this book with other ghostwritten celebrity memoirs—easy, People magazine four-star review stuff over which I could maintain a certain superior aloofness.
Wrong. Dead wrong. I’m ashamed to admit I equated this remarkable book with its trivial, lightweight peers.
Jaycee Dugard did not employ a ghostwriter in order to tell her story, and her tale of years of abuse at the hands of the despicable Phillip and Nancy Garrido is made all the more powerful because of it. Her prose is clear, direct, and free of pretention, all of which work together to bring the horror and eventual redemption of her “stolen life” into stark relief.
I spent the majority of the volume’s 273 pages on the verge of tears, immediately plunged into the fascinating mind of a woman who has managed to emerge from her ordeal free of hatred. I have to confess that if I had been kidnapped at 11, routinely raped, forced to bear two children in captivity and then live in a perversion of a nuclear family with my rapist and his equally culpable wife, I can’t imagine not seething with rage and hate twenty-four hours a day. But Dugard recounts the terrible events in her life with grace, helpfully taking frequent “reflection” breaks, which provide a breather for author and reader both.
I wanted to read this book because I read Room last year, and author Emma Donahue cited Dugard’s case as an inspiration for that novel. I’ve spoken with people who disagreed with Donahue’s choice to tell her story from the perspective of the captive woman’s five-year-old son, but after reading A Stolen Life, I not only agree with her decision regarding narration, I’m grateful that she spared her readers the harrowing inner voice of a person who understands exactly what is happening to her and her child.
I’m not at all sorry to have read this book, but I would caution others that it does contain unflinching, graphic descriptions of rape, and is emotionally draining even for the most hardened reader of true-life accounts. Oddly, the details that most affected me were among the most mundane—Dugard’s mentions of which television shows and music she enjoyed during her captivity. For some reason, the idea that this girl, only two years older than me, was also watching 7th Heaven and singing along to Jason Mrasz under these circumstances just broke my heart. There’s something about this false dichotomy—that she could still be a spectator for so much of what the rest of us were looking at, while simultaneously being totally and utterly cut off from the entire world—that I found especially sickening.
In an excerpt from a journal she kept after her daughters were born, Dugard states that she hopes to one day be a best-selling writer. Although I’m sure she wishes the circumstances were different, I was so moved by the fact that she has already been able to achieve one of her goals, and hopeful that she’ll be able to achieve so many more in the future. Dugard’s book and her life are remarkable testaments to a remarkable woman, and I genuinely hope that she and her children are able to move on as much as possible to live happy, fulfilled lives away from public scrutiny.