Sunday, July 17, 2011

Jaycee Dugard's Memoir: A Stolen Life reviewed by Janet Maslin

image from New York Times

Jaycee Dugard has written a miraculous memoir after being abducted, raped and forced to bear and birth two ( innocent and hopefully much loved ) children beginning age 14 to her demented captor, X. The man (and his wife, co-conspirator) deserves no recognition. Jaycee was eleven when she was tasered, dragged into a car and brought to live for the next 18 years in his backyard. The fact that she survived mentally or emotionally intact enough to even begin to address what happened to her, much less write a memoir about it- is a miracle, and a testament to her resilience and strength.

Her story has been reviewed in The New York Times by Janet Maslin, a short review with a brisk style of summarizing one of the most emotionally brutalizing and maiming life stories I have ever encountered. I thought a few times, reading the review, that Mrs. Maslin was underwhelming in her interpretation of the memoir, the author and the experience that Ms. Dugard was recalling; Mrs. Maslin left out emphasis terrifically important when considering this memoir; she approaches once only the subject of trauma's wounds to a person's brain:
“With some help, I have come to realize that my perspective is unique to abduction,” Ms. Dugard writes at the start of the book. That means that her memories are fragmented and incomplete, since she often had only a narrow idea of what went on around her."

A Stolen Life is also a stolen mind- the wounds of severe, ongoing trauma are as profound to the brain as they are the soul. Every example that is criticized in Mrs. Maslin's review must also be seen through the lens of this understanding to be correctly reflected on- criticisms such as:
Her diary entries include the lines “I would do it all again,” “I don’t understand why I’m not happy” and “What do I have to complain about?” But “A Stolen Life” almost makes sense of those words.

Almost? Understated in the best light, the use of the word 'almost' is almost insulting to anyone who has experienced great emotional trauma. The brain will do amazing and miraculous, confounding and horrible things in the wake of ongoing suffering, and the kind of deeply neurological confusion and shadow-playing that her heartbreaking diary lines reveal does not warrant minimization like that. To be taken ( from a home that was so emotionally barren that Mrs. Maslin asks 'Where would she go?' if Jaycee had managed to escape) and dragged into an alternate universe where you are raped by a man who then gives you 'privacy' to clean yourself up is to test the boundries of the mind to comprehend reality. Adults in torture imprisonments often lose grip on reality. - Jaycee was eleven.

Mrs. Maslin goes on to write: As it progresses from the shock of Ms. Dugard’s early years with the Garridos to the weird domesticity of her later ones, “A Stolen Life” makes enough sharply insightful observations to offset vapid ones. This is a fascinating critique. How can the point of view of a young woman severely degraded and abused for her entire coming of age, kept in solitary confinement with the exception of being raped and then forced to give the name Momma to her rapist's wife, how can her observations on her life be, at any point, vapid? The words may be vapid. But to take the words out of the context of the author- Jaycee Dugard- is to rip the soul out of the book, to deny the great and powerful mangling of a human being's capacity for 'normal' thought and feeling when repeatedly viciously abused as a child. Mrs. Dugard asks 'What would you do to survive?' and I think the only fair and honest answer any of us can give is along the lines of I don't know. Anything and everything, nothing- I. Don't. Know. And only those who have the horrible key to that answer have earned the right to judge.









Sara said...

Her diary entries include the lines “I would do it all again,” “I don’t understand why I’m not happy” and “What do I have to complain about?” But “A Stolen Life” almost makes sense of those words.

I haven't read the memoir, but those words there--having not experienced trauma anything like Ms. Duggard's, are almost exactly the words I once used, trying to make sense of, find some control over, my fucked life.

Does the reviewer have any experience with such living? Such trauma? It sure doesn't seem so. But those words gave me chills.

clearness said...

The reviewer sounds like a douche.

Amelia said...

I would absolutely read this, and most likely be heartbroken.
clearness doesn't sound all wrong...

Alexicographer said...

I did OK with the review in the sense that it left me interested to read the book. Not (yet) having done so, I think it is fair to imagine that there exist topics that can only be covered by those who experience them (and that merit covering), but where the experiencers, for whatever reason, aren't necessarily effective authors, or don't write as well as they might, or bring a narrow perspective to a topic that (also) merits broad examination.

That said, I have to admit, Ms. Maslin pretty much lost me at, "And there are far too many survivors of ghastly crimes who have told their stories in lurid terms laced with self-pity." (Not something she said about Ms. Dugard -- quite the contrary -- but, still).

Dena said...

sometimes being a great writer matters less than the story being told.

Elizabeth said...

I might be cynical, but I find the incredible rapidity with which this memoir has been written, published and reviewed disconcerting. I can't help but think that Ms. Dugard, however traumatized, is fast on the road to being completely manipulated by an insatiable public drunk on tragedy and the media conglomerates that pour the drinks.

Marion said...

Obviously, Janet Maslin has her head so far up her ass that she rolls through life.

Your take is much more honest and introspective.

I cannot read the book. I watched the Diane Sawyer interview with her and I applaud her for choosing to not look back in bitterness but to look forward to the future with hope. I don't think I would have a fraction of the good attitude that Jaycee has and I wish she and her daughters all the best life has to offer...

Petit fleur said...

I have not read the book or the review.

All I can say is that if you have ever experienced abuse or trauma at all, you would never attempt to critique some one else's experience and expression of theirs.

I cannot believe this woman even lived. It's so hard to project what any of us would do in a situation like that... My intellectual self says suicide sounds good. But who knows? I'm just glad she survived and has managed to not loose her mind.

You do good work Maggie. Thank you for speaking out. I will read the book and the review.
xo

Hannah Stephenson said...

You take things seriously, things that need to be taken seriously. Thank you for that.

Ms. Moon said...

I am speechless.

silverfinofhope said...

I have a very low boiling point when it comes to art and literary reviewers/critics. Since art is subjective, any observation is just that: observation and opinion. As an artist, I try to stay away from it, you know? Who cares if she talks about her pets too much or dwells on certain aspects of her captivity too much? She poured her heart out, and given what she experienced, she deserves all the good that will come out of this book.

Annie said...

I haven't read the book or the review, but your review of both is sensitive and insightful, and as I think about the reality of what she experienced, it brings tears. Thank you for respecting Jaycee Dugard and her interpretation of her own experience, and what it took for her to survive, emotionally as well as physically.

Caroline of Salsa Pie said...

I totally agree with you, Maggie.

Barrie said...

I plan to read this book. But not this summer. I just finished a "difficult" read, and I need to recover a bit before tackling the next one. I enjoyed your comments.

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