A Short Review of “A Stolen LIfe,” by Jaycee Dugard

I picked up a copy of the memoir of Jaycee Dugard last week at the local bookstore (oddly, it was in the “True Crime” section), because it was a book I had been wanting to read ever since it came out.  Kidnapped from her house in Tahoe, California, at the age of eleven in June, 1991, and forced to live hidden and totally out of the world’s view in the backyard of her captor’s house, she survived for eighteen years until 2009, when she was finally released.  Survived is the important word.  She survived not only the kidnapping, but repeated rape that resulted in two pregnancies (both resulting in girls), the first when she was only fourteen years old, and the second at seventeen.  She lived alternately between two shacks, neither with running water, and used a bucket as a toilet.  Her captor, Phillip Garrido, had been diagnosed with ADD and bipolar disorder, but apparently got very little help for his disease, and even his psychiatrist seems to have failed to realize the depth of his disorder.  The case has drawn attention to the California parole system because Garrido, a convicted felon, was on parole at the time.  His parole officers failed time after time to recognize that he held Dugard in a hidden part of his backyard.  Only when two UC Berkeley campus officers got suspicious about Garrido’s presence on campus–where he went to videotape young girls and promote his “discovery” that other people could hear him speaking through the power of his mind–was anything done to release Dugard from her captivity.  Oddly, she doesn’t describe the actions of the Berkeley cops in much detail.  Neither has anyone else in the media; I’ve never been totally sure exactly what it was they did that resulted in Dugard’s release.  But anyway…

In any event, I found the book fascinating reading.  Granted, the writing suffers from the fact that Dugard never finished the sixth grade, though in that light it is reasonably well done.  She writes largely in the present tense, an odd choice.  I would have expected the past tense.  Every now and then a sentence will drift from present into past tense, mangling the context a bit.  Her prose is straight forward, though, and many sentences are just a few words.  She tends to not use contractions much, and the reading sounds stilted.  The book could have been improved by better copy editing.  I’m surprised Simon and Schuster, the publisher, didn’t polish it more.  I even found one small mathematical error.

Dugard does a good job of detailing the facts of her capture and imprisonment, but the one thing I found somewhat lacking was any sense of the boredom, the tedium of her confinement.  Obviously, she couldn’t detail every day of the time spent there;  after all, eighteen years is well over 6000 days.  She focuses the book on the important events of her captivity, the times that make a benchmark, and from this there is a sense of the dreariness of her existence, though it doesn’t come through as intensely as I had expected.

What she does do well is write about the disturbed nature of Garrido’s personality.  His control over her is absolute.  Several times she notes that if she does something wrong, or says the wrong thing, he’s all over her, telling her how she’s wrong and “correcting” her.  This happens so frequently, it’s no wonder she remains hidden for so long without attempting escape.  Interestingly, the pregnancies and motherhood, though apparently unplanned, make it even more difficult for Dugard to escape.  She doesn’t know where she is, so how could she escape with two small children?  Where would she go?  She’s trapped.

Overall, I was impressed with the book and I recommend it highly.  It’s not a heavy psychological thriller and it won’t win any awards, but Dugard may have a career in writing ahead of her.

  1. #1 by Ceska on January 27, 2012 - 1:24 AM

    I gained strength through this story being told with brutal honesty! Thank you so much Ms. Duggard for sharing the events of your and your daughters story…no matter sometimes how bad it may seem, there’s always someone with more traggic circumstances, and it comes down to how you react to the situation ultimately to come out of it alive and on the road to healing. Forgiveness is hard but necessary to move forward in life.

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