431 Years — or, When Fact Meets Your Fiction

Last summer, when I sped-read through ROOM in a couple of days, I couldn’t help but think about the Jaycee Dugard case.  In fact, I assumed Emma Donoghue had found the spark for her fiction from this newspaper headline.  I later learned that she had, indeed, been inspired by the real news, just not this story.

Still, I started reading this book with Jaycee’s story in my head.  This made it tough going.  At first.  I remember taking a breath when I found myself deep enough into the fiction of Donoghue’s novel — relieved by it being so much more about the mother/child bond than the kidnapping and sexual abuse — that I let it go.  Only then did I appreciate the originality of Donaghue’s story and her discipline and style in the writing of it.  A year later, I still remember lines from this well-crafted book; it was that original, that engaging, that good.

Yesterday, Emma Donaghue gave a reading at Kepler’s Book Store here in Northern California.  The same day, a few miles away, Jaycee’s kidnapper was finally sentenced to 431 years for his crime, a crime that began with his stun-gun abduction of an 11 year old girl and fell into 18 years of evil and abuse.  When I first saw this number, my gut response was, even 431 years doesn’t sound long enough.  At the sentencing, Jaycee’s mother read a statement from her daughter telling her kidnapper, in part:  You do not matter anymore. 

The real facts of this story, however, do matter.  Next month, Jaycee’s memoir about her abduction and captivity will be released by Simon and Schuster.  She wrote the book herself — no ghost writer — and I think she is so brave to tell it.  Yet I don’t know if I can read it.  Which makes me feel guilty.  Guilty, like it was okay when I was reading what I thought was the fictional take but I lack the heart and courage to hear the real words.


5 thoughts on “431 Years — or, When Fact Meets Your Fiction

  1. Deb

    I know what you mean. I’d want to support the woman – I hope she makes a million dollars from the book. But it’s difficult. I’m not the kind of person who can keep a safe distance. I’m either in or out. And I think with the subject matter, it might drive me into a hyper vigilant anxiousness with my own kids. Does that sound horrible?

  2. Laura

    I didn’t know Jaycee was writing it herself. I’m glad to hear it. Ghostwritten memoirs are usually a letdown and, when done poorly or quickly, can feel completely dishonest.

    I think I could read it. I don’t know why; maybe it’s because she’s out on the other side now and I can imagine some brightness, some insight, that shines through.

    I loved ROOM and didn’t actually find it to be depressing like others seem to suggest. Sure, the subject matter is extremely dark, but there was so much joy in that book, too.

  3. macdougalstreetbaby

    Normally I don’t think I could read such a book but having just finished Room I think I’m in the right head space for it. Thanks for the heads up. I’ll keep my eyes open for it.

  4. erikamarks

    Teri, you hit it perfectly to say there is a sense of guilt in not thinking I am strong enough to read this remarkable (that word doesn’t cover it, not even close) woman’s unimaginable story. I remember feeling this way during 9/11 when the Times ran, week after week, beautifully and lovingly detailed pieces about the victims, and though it broke me apart to read the details of their lives (and passings), I felt a sense that I was somehow obligated to share–even in the smallest sense–in that pain, that grief. I feel that way for Jaycee. But as the mother of girls, the subject pains me so terrifically…We’ll have to keep one another posted on this when it is released.

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