Has it really been nine months since Jaycee Lee Dugard was rescued from the home of the man, Phillip Garrido, who snatched her off the street when she was 11 years old and held her captive for eighteen years? The scary statistic is that only 1% of those taken captive are ever found alive.
In a recent read, Hazardous to My Health: The Marlboro Man I Knew, Marcia N. Hill detailed four years of her life when she and her two children were captives of a brutal, sadistic man. She was terrorized so effectively, he was able to take her out to dinners and parties without fear of being discovered.
One cannot help but speculate how many women (and children) are being kidnapped and held captive by deranged, delusional men (and, sometimes, their accomplices). Having read several reports like this in the past, I wonder how prevalent this type of crime is.
Less than a week after reading Hill’s story, I found myself reading Eight Days in Darkness, the horrific tale of one young woman’s experience after a madman decided she would be “his girl.” The story is told on many levels, producing a book that is about 1) the brutal kidnapping and repeated assaults of a young woman; 2) the detection and rescue efforts of a group of law enforcement officers and agents who were determined to bring the young woman home alive; and 3) her testimony to the powers of faith.
This is not a book to read in one sitting. It follows Anita Wooldridge’s experiences over the course of the eight days that started with her kidnapping and ended with her rescue. Her attempts to return to a “normal life” are outlined, and there is a description of the kidnapper’s federal trial. (I don’t normally think of a person’s decision to defend himself as a public service, but Victor Thomas Steele’s choice insured speedy deliberations, thereby saving the taxpayers the cost of dozens of meals).
While the police procedures (and detours around procedure) are riveting, Anita’s experiences are so sickening, the reader needs an escape from the details. Imagine, then, the horror Anita Woodridge suffered. If it were not for her faith in God and the comfort she drew from Bible passages she had memorized, she may not have survived her imprisonment (in addition to the vicious treatment she received, she was kept in a metal storage cabinet enduring savage summer heat for much of the time).
I would be remiss if I did not tell you that the writing in Eight Days in Darkness is disappointing. There are many examples of awful sentence construction resulting in ungrammatical narrative, and there are far too many instances where the reader knows what the author (Angela Roegner) is saying although the written word does not express it correctly.
While it never hurts to be an intuitive reader, with this book it’s a necessity. For example, in describing one of the investigators, Roegner wrote, “Though small in stature, his commanding presence and confidence made him look a few feet taller. Jack was well built, and his muscles were transparent even through his baggy T-shirt.” Earlier in the book she assessed someone who was 5’11” as not being very tall; does this indicate that “Jack” looked to be about eight feet tall due to “his commanding presence and confidence”? Now about those transparent muscles… Jack, the eight-foot-tall jellyfish… Perhaps his muscles were “apparent” or even “obvious,” but using transparent in this sense (although some may consider it technically correct) is laughable.
In an “Author’s Note,” Angela Roegner sates, “Though the events and major facts are real, some dialogue had to be elaborated upon and some inner thoughts of the characters invented to help the story flow.” The problem with “elaborating” and “inventing” is that the reader begins to wonder how much of the story actually happened. Unfortunately, the narrative stops dead at some of these elaborations, when the reader pauses to think “Who talks like that?” If Roegner plans to pursue a career as a novelist, she needs to work on her dialogue skills.
Roegner refers to herself as a novelist, which may explain the unacceptable fiction included in this story. There are many passages exposing what the kidnapper said or felt at various times, leading the reader to believe he was interviewed for the book. In fact, “Most of the information for this book regarding the investigation and Mr. Steele’s history and mental status was obtained from interviews with various high school peers … military records, police report records, and in-depth interviews with the officers and FBI agents involved on this case.” With Steele’s delusions and apparent anti-social personality disorder, it is unlikely he would ever admit to having the feelings attributed to him, or that he would comply with interviews by the police, mental health professionals, or novelists.