I wrote this post for my original blog on October 12, 2013. It includes the Epinions.com review of her book, My Story, which I posted on the same day. It appears here as/is.
I really hesitated before reading My Story, the book Elizabeth Smart wrote about her experiences being kidnapped by Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee. I have written a review, posted below. This post is going to have less to do with the book and more to do with some things I realized while reading Smart’s book.
First off, Elizabeth Smart endured hell for nine months. There’s no sugar coating it. Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put that girl through sheer hell. When I think about what it must have been like for Elizabeth Smart to endure daily rapes, constant threats on hers and her family’s lives, the outdoor elements while wearing filthy rags, and, in fact, the very loss of her identity since Mitchell forced her to change her name, I am truly amazed that she has been able to recover as well as she apparently has. I have some new respect for her. She is certainly a strong and courageous woman.
Secondly, it occurred to me as I read her book that she was kidnapped at age 14, which is the age Helen Mar Kimball was when she “married” Joseph Smith.
I don’t know if that has to do with Brian David Mitchell’s decision to kidnap Elizabeth Smart when she was fourteen. Certainly, at fourteen, Smart was still very much a child. She was especially naive and sheltered and was, no doubt, easier to control than she might have been had she been older and more worldly. Smart reveals that Mitchell planned to kidnap more girls and make them his wives. Elizabeth Smart calls him a pedophile, but I think it’s more likely that he just wanted gullible, obedient, easily controlled girls who had not been defiled by anyone else.
Certainly, it was easier for Barzee if Mitchell had younger girls around who didn’t compete for her place as the alpha bitch. In any case, though, it did occur to me that Mitchell, who had proclaimed himself a “prophet”, was doing something very similar to what Joseph Smith did. Yes, Joseph Smith did it many years ago. Does it make it less wrong that he was fucking fourteen year old girls and “marrying” the wives of other men? Why should anyone admire Joseph Smith on that basis alone?
Finally, once again, I couldn’t help but feel horrible for Elizabeth as she described feeling like a beautiful vase that was shattered. I had read an account of a speech she had given some time ago about feeling like a “chewed up piece of gum”, in part because of an object lesson she had taken part in at church. She was taught that no one would want her after a man had put his hands all over her. As a fourteen year old girl, she certainly had no choice but to let Brian David Mitchell defile her. Of course he overpowered her, though she is careful to point out that she did try to fight him off. I’m sure that line was added for those who might fault her for not fighting harder to protect her virginity. Anyone who would fault her for that, by the way, is an enormous asshole.
In any case, Elizabeth Smart felt like a shattered vase or chewed up piece of gum after Mitchell forced her to “marry” him and then raped her. She felt like she no longer had any value. That rape took away her self-worth because she was taught that sex before marriage is filthy. Certainly being raped can be described as filthy, but a person doesn’t lose their intrinsic value as a person because they have been raped or because they have had intercourse before marriage. Plenty of good people have been raped. Plenty of good people have had premarital sex. What happened to Elizabeth Smart was not her fault. It grieves me to think that even for a moment, she felt worthless because she was victimized. I think many religious organizations need to do a better job instilling self worth in girls. That goes for any restrictive faith that places a high premium on chastity and modesty.
One other thing I noticed in Smart’s book was her description of the food Mitchell would steal. I have never been LDS, but I have read a lot of accounts of the type of foods many Mormons eat. They seem to be big on casseroles, Spam, and Jello. For instance, Utah is the world’s leader in green Jello consumption. Here’s just one thread on RfM about odd cuisine. Mitchell apparently was very fond of mayonnaise and would mix it with carrots and raisins. Just the thought of that makes me want to retch. And Elizabeth washed it down with warm water from a plastic canteen shared by her captors… when she wasn’t forced to drink cheap wine or beer or liquor… Or smoking cigarettes… Yeah. I can see why she’d want to forget that time in her life.
To add insult to injury, when she was finally found, the cop handcuffed her before he took her to the police station. Why he cuffed her, I don’t know. It must have been procedure. Maybe he thought she’d have some kind of Stockholm Syndrome and might bonk him on the head. Poor Elizabeth. That was just one more thing she never should have experienced.
Anyway, I think the book is worth reading if you want to read Elizabeth Smart’s perspective of the horrible experiences that made her famous. It’s definitely gotten me to thinking.
Below is my reposted review.
I really debated purchasing Elizabeth Smart’s 2013 book, My Story. I have read other books written by crime victims and, generally speaking, have found that victimhood does not necessary make one a good writer. But Smart had help writing this book from ghost writer, Chris Stewart, and having seen her in the media in the eleven years since she was abducted from her home in June 2002, I figured I might as well.
I managed to read Smart’s account of her abduction and nine months in captivity at the hands of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee in one sitting. The book is written in the first person, as if Elizabeth Smart is standing at a lectern relating her story. She begins with the story of the first time she laid eyes on Brian David Mitchell. It was a chilly day in November 2001 and Mitchell was on a Salt Lake City street begging. Elizabeth Smart was out shopping with her mother and a couple of her siblings. Smart’s mother, Lois, felt sorry for Mitchell. She gave him five dollars and her husband’s cell phone number so that they might offer him work. Elizabeth Smart explains that she made eye contact with Mitchell and gave him a slight smile. She, too, felt sorry for him. At that moment, Mitchell determined that Elizabeth Smart would be his “second wife”.
Many people already know what happened next. On the night of June 5th, 2002, Mitchell broke into Smart’s home and awakened the sleeping fourteen year old by pressing a knife to her neck. Smart, who had been sleeping next to her younger sister, Mary Katherine, silently got out of bed and, wearing nothing but her red satin pajamas and a pair of running shoes, left her home with Mitchell. She was gone for nine months.
Smart explains that after being forced to “wed” and then repeatedly raped by Mitchell, she felt like a priceless vase that had suddenly been smashed to bits. What do you do with a shattered vase? You sweep up the pieces and throw it away. Smart writes that Mitchell had defiled and demoralized her to the point at which she felt like her life was meaningless and no one would ever want her. Smart writes that Barzee treated her like a slave and seemed to have no empathy whatsoever for Smart’s plight. In fact, Smart writes more than once that Barzee had “given up” her six children so she could be with Mitchell. I’m not sure that giving up access to one’s children automatically makes someone *bad*… After all, in divorce situations, men are asked to do it all the time. However, I definitely see how Elizabeth Smart made that determination about Wanda Barzee, under the circumstances.
Aside from the cruel treatment and neglect she received at the hands of her captors, Smart writes of the very uncomfortable living conditions she was forced to endure. Mitchell and Barzee were derelicts who lived outside; consequently, Elizabeth Smart, who had grown up privileged and comfortable, found herself going days without eating, going thirsty, and wearing filthy clothes that were cast offs from other homeless people. Mitchell also forced Smart to drink alcohol, smoke, and view pornography, activities that were strictly against Smart’s Mormon beliefs.
I had read Bringing Elizabeth Home, a book written by Ed and Lois Smart in 2004. I wasn’t very impressed with that book because it was very sanitized and offered little information that wasn’t already in the news. Moreover, it also included a lot of religious “preaching” related to the Smarts’ belief in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was a little afraid that Elizabeth Smart’s book would contain more of the same, although I had read that the book was going to focus much more on what went on during her actual captivity.
My Story is, in fact, about what happened to Elizabeth Smart during those nine months she was away. I have to admit, after reading this book, I have new respect for Elizabeth Smart. Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Barzee put her through hell. Smart makes it clear that given a choice, she would certainly favor Barzee over Mitchell, whom she describes as a narcissistic pedophile who was unspeakably cruel to her.
I finished this book in a couple of hours. It’s printed in large type and written in a conversational style that includes a lot of sentence fragments which I think was supposed to be engaging. Personally, I find one word sentences annoying. I also noticed at least one instance in which Smart’s captor was referred to as David Brian Mitchell. That’s not a big deal, but I did catch it. There are no photos, not that I really expected Smart to have pictures from that time period. This book is not nearly as graphic as it could be, which is certainly understandable. For many readers, I’m sure the lack of graphic details will be a relief.
I don’t think the writing in My Story is the stuff of Pulitzer Prizes, but it’s not bad. The book was a quick read and doesn’t include a whole lot more information than what has been printed in the media already, though it does give Smart’s perspective more so than any news article could. I admire Elizabeth Smart’s fortitude during that ordeal. I think My Story is worth reading if you’re interested in what really happened to Elizabeth Smart. The writing could be better, though.
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