Hinch's Reviews > A Stolen Life

A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
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Aug 06, 2011

really liked it

A Stolen Life: A Memoir, by Jaycee Dugard, is a disturbing, yet heartwarming personal narrative of the author's abduction, at age 11, and her subsequent 18 year captivity in the backyard of Phillip and Nancy Garrido.

I listened to the audio version of the book, which was read by Jaycee. The prose is simple and direct, yet surprisingly eloquent, and her personal narration adds further emotion to an already poignant story.

The book does not attempt to provide an objective or journalistic account of the events surrounding the captivity. This is a personal story, and the focus is primarily on Jaycee's remembered experience. There is scant information regarding the physicality of her environment, or even the logistics of her day to day experience; the writing instead reflects the journey of a young girl who was forced to withdraw from the world. It is possible that this inward and subjective focus has affected the accuracy of recollected detail. For example, in the book we are told that during the early years of her captivity, Phillip was returned to federal prison for approximately 1 month for parole violation, when in actuality, it was closer to 5 months.

It should come as no surprise that Jaycee was subjected to extensive emotional and psychological disturbance. The book is clearly the work of a person who, through therapy, is slowly finding the freedom, and the strength, to reassert herself. In fact, I suspect the writing of the book formed a significant role in the recovery process - and it is probable that the composition of the narrative has been decidedly influenced by an attempt to make sense of past experiences.

The book is a fascinating account, not just for what is explicitly revealed, but also for what is implied, and omitted. For example, Jaycee's journal entries identifying top 10 "wishes" and "favourites" almost exclusively list experiences involving animals and open spaces, no doubt signifying her diminished human contact, and her desire to escape the claustrophobia of her captivity. In a similar vain, large tracts of the book focus on the many pets she kept over the years. On the surface, some readers may find these passages boring and mundane - and to a degree, they are - but such thinking also misses the point, for these passages offer a unique glimpse at how Jaycee strived to keep her sanity and identity in a world where her mind and body were totally dominated.

The story unfolds in three rather distinct phases. The first, covering her abduction, and the initial 6-7 years of captivity, is the most explicitly disturbing. At only age 11, we learn of the deep psychological wounds inflicted on Jaycee - separated from her family, handcuffed and isolated in a shed, and repeatedly raped by Phillip during drug-fuelled "runs" that would sometimes last for days on end.

The second phase, which commences with the birth of her second child, covers the remainder of her captivity. It is during this period that Phillip and Nancy partially assimilate Jaycee and her children into their pseudo family. Jaycee begins to work as a graphic designer for Phillip's printing business, and she is occasionally permitted to leave the house to go thrift store shopping with Nancy. There is no mention of continued sexual abuse, but Jaycee is still the victim of Phillip's psychological domination, deteriorating mental condition, and the target of his delusional religious notions. If you put the first half of the book and obvious oddities aside - such as Jaycee living in a tent in the backyard, and using a bucket for a toilet - you could almost be forgiven for thinking that sections of this second phase were not penned by an abused captive, but rather the stereotypical teenager - annoyed that she cannot drive, frustrated that she is under appreciated, angry that her "dad" is lazy, and resentful of her lack of freedom. Again, the fact that Jaycee elects to express this side of her experience is in itself informative, not to mention that this teenage angst was expressed whilst Jaycee was actually in her twenties.

The third phase of the book focuses on Jaycee's post-release therapy and recovery, and her transition back into society. The text is steep in self-help language, and flush with affirmations of growing confidence. This phase of the story provides Jaycee with an opportunity to mark out her own aspirations and to sketch her own identity apart from the psychological control of her past.

I am giving this book 4 stars out of 5. There are those that will undoubtedly see this as a slight against Jaycee, and a disrespect for the injustice she experienced. However, I do not consider past trauma or personal suffering as guarantors of perfect writing. Jaycee declares in the introduction that her account may seem confusing, or disordered, and while I do not consider it such, she does jump from memory to memory, at the expense of providing an well edited and balanced account. We learn little of the Garrido's, and less of the children; the environment in which they live is barely explored. Even short news articles from the period offer revelations that rival those presented in the book. For example I've read of a witness who saw Jaycee at a gas station, only a couple of years after her disappearance, standing motionless, staring at a "missing persons" picture of herself - presumably just one of the many significant moments omitted from the book. Though in many way, we should not be surprised: the torment began at such a young age, and continued for so many years, it's almost like the goal posts of normality never had a chance to stand, and as such, Jaycee lacked the reference points against which to provide a balanced account of her experience. I guess this is just another of the many rights that were so inhumanely stolen from her life the day she was taken away.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 6, 2011 – Shelved
August 6, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Tk (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tk Good Wow, very well said, I agree completely.


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