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A Reading Vocation

"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton

This is where I chronicle my reading life.  I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.

 

Book 25/100: My Story by Elizabeth Smart

My Story - Elizabeth  Smart, Chris Stewart

Like many of these, "I went through something harrowing" memoirs, this isn't something you read because you want great writing. The writing here is stilted and oftentimes repetitive, and I'm willing to be forgiving of that because it's important to tell the stories of regular, non-writer people who have been through extraordinary experiences, in as close to their own words as possible.

With that said, much of the storytelling in this recounting of the tale seemed to come from someone whose perception of the world had been stunted at the moment of her trauma -- not an unusual phenomenon, but one that Smart does not seem to acknowledge at all. She keeps referring to how she was "just a little girl" and "so innocent," which seems disingenuous to me since most teenagers don't actually think of themselves in those terms. She also seemed to hold on to a lot of very black-and-white thinking -- her captor, Mitchell, was "pure evil," while her family was seemingly perfect, nothing but loving and good all the time. There were also moments when she came across as somewhat self-righteous, but at the same time, I think it's the prerogative of a trauma survivor to hold onto some self-righteousness. It was clear that her faith in God and her beliefs about purity were deeply embedded parts of her psyche when she was kidnapped, so although it sometimes comes across as saccharine, I also felt that if this was true to her own experience of coping with the ordeal, it was appropriate to include.

I think that some people might be disappointed by how modest Smart was about the sexual stuff that took place while she was kidnapped -- she never goes into detail about the things that Mitchell did to her, made her do, or even the pornographic images he made her look at. I would say to those that are disappointed by the lack of detail in this regard should ask themselves why they are reading a book like this in the first place -- someone else's sexual exploitation should never be up for any onlooker to gawk at, and readers of this book are not "entitled" to peer in to every aspect of Smart's private hell. Instead, she went into great detail on many of the other aspects of living as a captive -- periods of starvation, conversations she had with her captors, stories they told her, all of which conveyed a clear enough picture of the desperation and hardship of her situation.

Although she insists again and again that she never developed any sort of feelings for her captives, it is interesting how Mitchell had brainwashed both Smart and his wife into total dependence on him. At one point he disappears for a week, and they go hungry during that time rather than venture into town on their own in search of food, even though nothing is really stopping them. (While Mitchell was around, he forbid them from going out in public, but he had such a hold on them that even while he was gone they obeyed this edict despite the fact that it could have literally killed them.)

The times when Smart comes close to being recognized or rescued only to remain in captivity are heartbreaking, and a good reminder to the rest of us to speak up or push back when she encounter something that seems "just not right." One of the best parts of this story, though, is that Smart plays a critical role in "saving herself" in the end. I wish all kidnapping stories could have endings that involve family reunions.