Thursday, December 12, 2013

My Story

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

Like most Americans I was both intrigued and mortified by the story of Elizabeth Smart's abduction. It wasn't the first story of child kidnapping, and unfortunately, could never be the last. However, the narrative of it was far more disturbing than most stories told. Blond hair, blue eyes, just 14 years old, she was the model of the "All American girl" pulled from the bed shared with her sleeping (so it was believed at the time) sister.

Eventually the story faded from the news and our minds...

Until nine months later when she is discovered by the police "hiding in plain sight" as the story was often subtitled, coupled with images of veils and ramshackle tents in the woods, stories of being the destined young wife of a homeless prophet.

But, she didn't want to talk. And her family respected that wish, or perhaps behind scenes, strongly encouraged it in an effort to as quickly as possible bury the story from news headlines and their lives. No interviews, no book deals,  no "real" details except those pulled from the trial many years later and crafted into a producer's movie image of the experience.

Until now, over ten years later when she has released the memoir of that experience. I question why now, and after reading the book, still don't have that answer. I can't help but think it's the easy answer, the money. I was rather disappointed when I saw that she was the Key Note speaker at Key Club International Convention this summer... and I couldn't go. Cameron said that while her story was amazing enough in itself, that she wasn't a very good speaker... and I would have to say his standards are pretty low.

After reading her memoir,  I would have to say that she's not a very good writer either. The effect of the writing style is that it comes across as from the perspective of  a fourteen year old having just experienced this ordeal, which thankfully works with the narrative. However, it doesn't show the reflection and perspective that would expected ten years later. I am curious as to what the person who co-wrote actually got paid to do.

Overshadowing the lack of writing style, perhaps directly influencing it, is the total emotional detachment. The story is written as if it happened to someone else, not the person writing about it. It is framed almost like a diary, chronicling  the daily living style and overall event line of the experience. Peppered amongst it are several self-defending claims against the notion that she suffered Stockholm Syndrome, which would signify an emotional attachment to her abductors, and several statements of defense that it was in fear of her family's safety that she remained quiet when help was so often, so close. This is quite apparently an issue for her. However, considering the lack of therapy following the ordeal, she probably has yet to discover all the issues that are longstanding from the daily rapes and harsh living conditions of those nine months of her young teen years.

I freely admit that my greatest point of reference of Mormonism is from the memoirs of women who escaped the fundamentalist cults loosely tied to the religion. However, one theme I see connecting many of their stories is the idea of teaching the young girls to "Stay Sweet." That is a phrase common in all there stories, the one that was used an ever-present reminder to edit their behaviors to the expected norm. When Elizabeth writes about the conversation with her mother the morning following her return home, and from her talking about that same conversation in the televised interview I watched after reading the book, I could not help but be reminded of that phrase, that mentality. Her therapy was riding horses and playing the harp. While I am sure those brought her peace and comfort, I am also sure they mainly brought her distraction.

While I am no great proponent of the field of psychology, despite it being my minor, I think a few... quite a few... therapy sessions should have ended this chapter in her life. I appreciate the mother's point of view in that they were not going to allow the man who robbed her of nine months of her life control her thoughts and emotions for one single more day. I also like Elizabeth's perspective that out of all the months lived in her life, this experience only filled nine of them, few in comparison, so those nine shouldn't taint all the others. However, I think I think the emotional detachment she shows now is  the product of that approach, not necessarily the success of it. For how many other situations in her life is this going to be the default coping mechanism? Will that be a good thing? I don't know...

It is an interesting read. While it is disturbing to imagine such things can happen, such things exist, the very traits that prevent it from being literarily acclaimed do make it a more palatable read. Elizabeth does gloss over all sexual details, to the point that it makes you feel a bit perverse to wonder to what she was referring by various vague statements. The story in itself is disturbing. It doesn't rely on gratuitous graphic scenes design to hold the reader's attention. Overall though, the story of Elizabeth Smart's abduction, her time in captivity, and her ultimate discovery and return home is so far removed from the expectations of what we expect in life that it hard to remember the book is not fiction, or not just the plot of a Lifetime movie.

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