Jaycee Dugard’s ‘A Stolen Life’ -- the first 100 pages

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Jaycee Dugard tells her own incredible story of survival in the book ‘A Stolen Life,’ out now. The book, which is now in my hands (thanks, Simon & Schuster!) is still at the top of Amazon’s bestseller list, where it has been since her television inteview Sunday.

In some ways, Dugard’s story is every parent’s nightmare. She was an attractive 11-year-old girl on her way to school who was snatched off the street by two strangers. Stories like these often end horribly. Wednesday in New York, for example, the remains of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who walked home the wrong way after camp, were recovered in Brooklyn. It’s no wonder that some parents have told me they cannot bear to open Dugard’s memoir.

Dugard suffered unspeakably at the hands of her kidnappers, Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy. But she survived 18 years of captivity. She survived. And in this way, it is a nightmare with a happy ending.

The book is more than just a horror story with a recovery at the end -- although it is that -- because Dugard’s survival shows such extraordinary fortitude. In the book, which we’ll look at on Jacket Copy in two parts -- the first 100 pages today, the rest tomorrow -- Dugard both portrays her mind-set in the moment and takes time to address the reader from the present, with clear and focused emotions.


‘I don’t believe in hate,’ she writes in an aside before plunging into a particularly grueling passage about her abuse. ‘To hate wastes too much time. People who hate waste so much of their life hating that they miss out on all the other stuff out here.... If all my heart were filled up with hate and regrets and what-ifs, then what else would it have room for?’

That place is a remarkable one for anyone to have reached, and readers themselves may have a hard time keeping up with her. On the next page, when she describes -- in the brutal sexual terms Garrido used -- the crystal-meth-fueled multiday marathon of abuse, the hate-meter in my brain zipped immediately to maximum. I’ll hate this guy for you, I thought, and then I realized how important her perspective must have been to her survival.

That perspective makes this book worth reading.

‘Something inside that frightened little girl made her a survivor and she has made me the person I am today,’ Dugard writes. ‘I would make up stories in my head to pass the time. It was easy for me in those early days to escape into my dreamworld because I had always been a dreamer and had my head in the clouds a lot. I used to lose all track of time and it helped to keep me from going crazy.’ Another thing that kept her from going crazy were her pets. In the first hundred pages, which conclude with her at age 13 and pregnant with her first child, she has a succession of several cats. With a notebook she’d been given she created a journal for a cat she called Eclipse; the journal was recovered after her discovery and is reprinted in photographs in the book. She welcomes the cat’s companionship, chronicles its likes (raisins) and dislikes (a messy litter box) and tries to read love in its eyes. She had the cat for six months before Garrido took it away.

Garrido often lied to Dugard; she repeats those lies as she understood them at the time and then debunks them in later sections. ‘I believe I shouldn’t be ashamed for what happened to me, and I want Phillip Garrido to know that I no longer have to keep his secret,’ she writes in the book’s introduction. Garrido is now serving a sentence of 431 years in prison for his crimes.

More than once Dugard notes that she learned not to argue with Garrido because ‘every argument ended up with me wrong and him right.’ Which shows that she had the fortitude to argue, and the intellegence to mute anger or frustration, emotions that might have put her in jeopardy.

During this time Dugard alternately lived in a music studio and in a separate, slightly larger structure they called ‘next door.’ Initially handcuffed and confined to the studio’s control room, she would eventually earn small benefits: the handcuffs were removed, she was given a TV, crayons, a Nintendo video game console. She writes of being terribly lonely, and being bored.

After an initial time of having contact only with Garrido, Nancy comes into the picture. She becomes responsible for bringing Dugard food -- almost always junk food, except on the occasions it was a holiday meal prepared by Phillip Garrido’s mother. The Garridos spent time with Dugard, watching movies together, sleeping in a bed in her shelter while she slept in blankets on the floor. At one point when Dugard was about 12, Nancy informed her that Garrido would be away for a month. ‘Wow! A WHOLE MONTH WITH NO SEX! I am so excited inside,’ she writes. ‘But she looks so sad I just say, ‘Fine.’ ‘

As awful as that is, the little things are perhaps more heartbreaking. You suddenly realize that after being held captive she had nothing to wear but a towel -- for days, or even for weeks. Then she describes the kind of hooks that he used to attach her legs to the wall just so.

‘A Stolen Life,’ has the easy, digressive flow of conversation, the technically incorrect construction of verbs both past and present, and some awkward prose that indicate Dugard herself is the sole author of the book. The editorial choices not to smooth these things out, as they might have done in another book, allow Dugard’s voice to come through.

And by the end of the first hundred pages, that voice occasionally demonstrates a wry humor. ‘Although I’ve always loved writing I’m not the best speller,’ she notes about the cover of her cat Eclipse’s ‘Jounal.’ And about Christmas 1993: ‘My plans for the day are: 1. Watch the Today show, 2. Play a couple hours of Super Mario Bros., 3. Take a nap, and 4. Hopefully by then it will be dinnertime. My day. Very exciting.’

More Thursday on Jaycee Dugard’s ‘A Stolen Life.’


Jaycee Dugard memoir No. 1 on Amazon

Narratives of captivity

Book review: ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue

-- Carolyn Kellogg