Since the first Europeans arrived here, captivity narratives have enthralled America's collective imagination. These real-life accounts of settlers seized by American Indians retaliating against invading peoples expressed both the dark underside and the eternal optimism of the early American experience.
Modern times have seen a resurgence of this centuries-old genre, but with a more sinister, sadistic twist: the updated version of the captivity narrative narrates the harrowing experiences of sex slaves at the hands of their captors.
Such stories have made the headlines this summer, most notably in the release of A Stolen Life, the memoir of Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped at age 11 and kept a sex slave in a hidden suburban compound in California for 18 years.
A less publicized account, even more horrific than Dugard's (as if one could even imagine such a thing) is that of twins Kate and Will Stillman, whose story is featured in the August issue of Glamour. In this case, not only were both brother and sister subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of various members of the family that enslaved them, but they were also cruelly tortured physically and emotionally in ways that make Dugard's captor appear saintly by comparison. And, yes, I realize how insane such a statement sounds.
One cannot even imagine living through, let alone being born into, such circumstances—unless one is as imaginative and able as Emma Donoghue has proven to be in creating just such a character in her fictional account, stolen from the news headlines, of an abducted woman and the child born to her in her captivity. Donoghue's award-winning novel Room is ingeniously narrated by 5-year-old Jack, born to his "Ma," a prisoner in the backyard bunker ("Room"), ...1
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