Return of Santitas # CBR 4 # Review No. 13: A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
Trigger warning: This post discusses childhood sexual abuse.
Make no mistake: this is a brutal book. Upon reading the opening paragraphs, I became sure I wouldn’t be able to finish. Dugard writes in the stream-of-consciousness voice of the eleven year-old child she was when she was kidnapped. There is no attempt to distance herself from that day nor any of the abuse, manipulation and neglect that followed.
I put it down for a long time. I picked it back up and skimmed. I skimmed through the descriptions of her rape at the hands of her drug-fuelled captor. I skimmed through the long line of pets that Jaycee adored and had taken from her in one way or another. In fact I could not sit and absorb any of this book until the birth of her second daughter, at which point it appears that her captor lost sexual interest. He was a pedophile, after all, and Jaycee was now, at least physically, an adult.
It is here that I was able to start reading again. Dugard paints a disjointed picture of her mindset after her children are born, particularly after having her second child. Now she is a mother and despite her twisted adolescent experiences, she recognizes the responsibilities that motherhood entails. Dugard’s deep love for her own mother is a constant theme through the book. She never forgot the feeling of being loved unconditionally by her mom.
This sense of responsibility leads to ongoing conflict about escaping from the backyard “house” where she and her daughters are living. Jaycee entertains constant fantasies of leaving but has been so brainwashed by her captors that she believes there is nowhere to go. She has also come to rely on them for companionship and “love”, while simultaneously recognizing that their “love” is twisted and wrong.
The rest of the book charts how her captor descends into mental illness and how his increasingly reckless actions lead to the police learning the truth about Jaycee and her daughters. Dugard concludes with a moving section that describes some of the therapeutic experiences she has undergone and her hopes and fears for herself and her children going forward.
Jaycee Dugard does not pull any punches in this book. At first I desperately wished she hadn’t described the sexual abuse in such detail. But let’s be honest, anyone who picks up this book is looking to be a voyeur into someone else’s f-ed up life. And this time around we got more than we bargained for. I hope she makes a boatload of cash off this thing. And I hope she continues to fill her life with love, the real kind.