Little Girl Gone
When Emma Donoghue’s ROOM was published in late 2010, it garnered a lot of attention. Simultaneously fascinating and shocking its audience with its eerie depiction of a mother and son held captive for seven years in an 11-foot by 11-foot soundproofed shed, the book is told from the young boy’s uniquely naïve point of view. After all, he was born in the enclosure and had never set foot outside. How would he know the world was any different from the reality in front of his face? The book was shortlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, and made just about every end-of-the-year “Best Of” list, including that of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Yorker. Clearly, readers were curious about what it felt like to be kidnapped by a crazy pervert on the run from the law --- and what it meant to accept that as home.
"Beyond the obvious shock value of the plot and the sensationalistic style of writing, what makes LITTLE GIRL GONE easily digestible...is Campbell’s portrayal of Madora."
THE GOOD SISTER author Drusilla Campbell’s latest novel tells a similar story, but from a nuanced perspective --- that of the creepy kidnapper’s accomplice. As you might expect from a book with this premise, 17-year-old Madora is just as clueless and inexperienced as Jack --- the boy in ROOM --- but in a more frightening sort of way. Unlike the mother in ROOM, Madora actually looks up to her jailer and thinks he’s a good man.
At 12 years old, Madora had fallen with the wrong crowd. After her father committed suicide five years earlier, she started to slack off. She partied more. She did drugs. She mouthed off to her mother whom she believed was at fault for not keeping the family together and happy. When an older, handsome-looking man named Willis came up to her at a friend’s party and took an interest in her, she pounced on the opportunity. It’s as if she’d been rescued from her life the moment he stepped into it.
When the book picks up five years later, Madora and Willis are actively dating (although not sleeping together, as Willis wants to keep Madora “pure” until she turns 18), and Madora’s mother, who doesn’t like Willis, is making strides to move the family in with her new beau. Wanting no part of this plan, Madora shacks up with Willis. After a few years spent jumping from one out-of-the-way town to another, they settle into an isolated property at the end of a dirt road in rustic Southern California. There’s a dilapidated, sparsely decorated shack, a falling-down carport, and a trailer in the backyard.
But what --- or who --- is in the trailer, you ask? A pregnant girl Willis has “rescued” from the side of the road. For months, Linda is kept trapped inside, handcuffed and padlocked to a leash that’s chained to the ceiling. Willis has no intention of letting her go --- even after she gives birth and he sells the baby --- telling her and Madora that it’s for everyone’s own good.
Meanwhile, while Willis is at work, an orphaned 12-year-old boy living with his aunt happens upon the property while on a bike ride in the area. Before long, he and Madora become friends, whiling away the hours telling stories and playing with Madora’s pit bull, Foo. Of course, the inevitable happens --- Django discovers the truth about the trailer, paving the way to an explosive showdown between abductor and abductee(s) that, while slightly unbelievable because of Django’s precocious decision-making process, sets the book’s ending ablaze.
Beyond the obvious shock value of the plot and the sensationalistic style of writing, what makes LITTLE GIRL GONE easily digestible, like Donoghue’s choice to write ROOM through Jack’s eyes, is Campbell’s portrayal of Madora. The girl’s progression from ardent believer to fearful skeptic feels realistic, unfolding at just the right measured pace. Like all nutter-butters who enslave unsuspecting victims for their own sadistic pleasure, Willis’s character --- with his mixed-up past and faulty reasoning --- is a bit one-dimensional compared to Madora’s. But maybe that’s just the point. Perhaps only clichés suffice when describing the mind and behavior of a convicted sociopath.
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on February 2, 2012
Little Girl Gone
- Publication Date: January 31, 2012
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
- ISBN-10: 0446535796
- ISBN-13: 9780446535793