Jaycee Dugard’s ‘A Stolen Life’: Our review, Part 2
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Jaycee Dugard was 14 when she gave birth to her first daughter in a shed in the backyard of Phillip Garrido and his wife, Nancy. She was 17 when she gave birth to her second.
The earliest ways in which she was held captive -- with handcuffs and fed only one meal a day -- had evolved into a strange and more complex kind of captivity. She could walk around the yard space, within limits; she even began leaving the compound, always with the Garridos. Dugard reveals her complex and difficult perceptions of those years in the second half of her memoir, ‘A Stolen Life.’
‘I can’t imagine staying here until I’m old and gray, but yet I don’t kow what the future holds for me,’ Dugard writes. ‘All I have is Phillip and he always seems to know what to do. Where would I go with a baby? Who would want me?’
This becomes a running theme, compounded after the birth of her second daughter. Dugard was just a child when she was taken, and, not surprisingly, the Garridos taught her no life skills. She has no idea how to survive in the world beyond her captivity. ‘Please, please stop these restless feelings. I can’t stop myself from imagining me just taking the girls and getting in the car, starting it, and leaving this horrible place forever,’ she wrote in her diary in 2003. She had never been taught to drive, of course, so dreaming of starting a car was a fantasy.
Excerpts of the diary, which she had to keep hidden, appear in the book; they span the years 1998 to 2007. ‘I know I can’t leave. I tell myself that every day. But I want to be away from here so bad it consumes me. Where would I go? Who would help me? Could I find a job? Would he come after us? I know there is nowhere to go. These thoughts and feelings need to be squashed.’
As deeply disempowered as Dugard felt, the book shows how resourceful she actually was. She gave birth to two children without medical assistance. She cared for her infants in the structures in the backyard without any running water; to give them baths she warmed clean water in a container in a microwave. Later she did most of the work for Garrido’s printing business. And the dirty tents that appeared in photographs after her discovery were actually a refuge for Dugard; only in her tent could she be alone.
To what extent the sexual abuse, horrifyingly exposed in the beginning of the book, may have continued is unclear in the later pages.
Dugard writes that Garrido left her alone for a time while she was pregnant and when her first daughter was small, and then stops discussing it. Aware that his fixation was upon young girls -- his first act, after taking her, was to shave her pubic hair -- the question also rises as to whether or not he may have turned his attention to his daughters with Dugard, who were 11 and 15 when they were liberated. ‘God, please don’t ever let me hurt this little girl,’ he once prayed, in Dugard’s account. The question of whether his prayer was answered remains simply a question. This may feel to some like they aren’t getting all the facts, but Dugard has crafted ‘A Stolen Life’ to tell her own story while also guarding her daughters’ privacy. She calls them only by initials -- ‘A,’ the elder, and ‘G’ -- and they are largely absent from her diary sections. This may feel uneven -- she writes about the heartbreak of pets dying; doesn’t she care about her girls? While she doesn’t come right out and say it, it seems that she’s carefully excerpted and written around them to protect them.
Questions about what facts ought to be included in a memoir arose over Joyce Carol Oates’ book ‘A Widow’s Story,’ in which she recounts her year of widowhood and doesn’t mention that at its end, she remarried. Book critic David L. Ulin weighed in: '[T]he memoir, like the novel, is all about shape. It’s not a biography, not a life story, not a transcript of events. In a memoir, a writer tells a story, and whatever is extraneous gets left out.’
Almost completely absent, also, is Garrido’s religious perspective, which Dugard reveals part of in one segment. It had something to do with angels, which he saw as powerful creatures both bad and good, and took parts of the Bible and twisted them into a deeply convoluted illogic. Garrido’s philosophy was something that Dugard must have been exposed to constantly -- she complains about it in her diaries -- but she doesn’t allow it much time on the page. It’s a kind of banning, erasing his then-importance from the story she is living now.
Erasure was key to her continued captivity. After her younger daughter was born, Garrido essentially gave them to Nancy and had them call her ‘Mom.’ Dugard was made to pick a new identity -- she decided on ‘Allissa,’ taken from Alyssa Milano -- and to tell the girls she was their sister.
When this strange family went out in the world, Dugard, with her hair dyed or wearing wigs and baggy clothes, felt she was invisible. ‘By then I had resigned myself to my fate,’ she writes. ‘The biggest memory I have from that day was, I had no voice and I didn’t shout to the world, ‘Hey, it’s me, Jaycee!’ even though I longed to. I was Allissa, the girl who gave birth to two girls that needed to be protected from the evilness of the world, and that was my main goal.’
But just like she was resourceful even when she felt she had no control, her external effacement could not stop her from having an internal life. In her diaries, she dreamed of places she might go, made lists of her favorite songs, and bemoaned her weight, like so many other women. And she asked questions: ‘What is the difference between the heart and the soul?’ ‘Will I ever feel complete?’ ‘Who would I be if I weren’t here?’ ‘Is life worth living simply because you live, or is it worth more if you make life happen?’
The most compelling part of the close of the book is Dugard’s rescue, which she tells only with the information she knew at the time. After so many years of not being seen, she truly could not imagine that law enforcement officials asking her questions might be on her side. To keep from being separated from her children, she repeated the lies Garrido had built for her -- although readers will know that her true identity will be discovered, the pages are filled with tension, as we hope that she’ll come to understand how close her freedom is.
In 2006, Dugard -- who had then spent more than half her life in captivity -- made a list of ‘My Dreams for the Future.’ No. 1 was ‘See Mom,’ and the list included a heartbreaking combination of items: ‘touch a whale’ and ‘learn to drive.’ No. 9: ‘Write a best seller.’
She’s done exactly that. ‘A Stolen Life,’ Simon & Schuster announced Wednesday, sold more than 100,000 e-books in its first day on sale, a company record. More than 425,000 copies of Dugard’s memoir are in print. ‘A Stolen Life’ remains where it has been since Sunday night, at the top of Amazon’s bestseller list.
-- Carolyn Kellogg