(2009), a novel by American author Peter Rock, is a fictionalized retelling of the true story of the kidnapping of thirteen-year-old Caroline in a forested region of Oregon. Caroline is abducted by her father at an early age and raised in a cave with basic food and water provisions. Eventually growing curious about civilization, Caroline also enjoys and affirms her nomadic identity. The story draws some of its plot from the dramatic, infamous, and highly publicized kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The novel begins in Forest Park, a large and densely forested region on the edge of Portland, Oregon. Caroline and her father live in a cave-dwelling her father constructed out of wood and trash collected from the park. They subsist on a combination of goods obtained in weekly visits to the city and plants, which they grow in a home garden. They dispose of food and other waste in a homemade septic system. Though they rarely interact with people from the rest of the world, their visits to the city bring Caroline into contact with society. Caroline’s father purchases goods using the money from his veteran’s checks. The reason for Caroline’s kidnapping is not fully established but seems to be a combination of her father’s PTSD and paranoia after long stints fighting overseas.
One day, the camp is discovered by a jogger, who reports it to authorities. The police remove them from the park, sending them to family services, where they are separated for the first time in years. Caroline is assigned a social worker, Jean Bauer, who evaluates her education level, finding that she is advanced beyond her projected grade level if she had been socialized normally. Caroline moves Ms. Bauer with her sincerity and deep philosophies about life, despite her ignorance about most of the world. The social worker reconnects Caroline and her father, getting them a home on a local farm.
Life on the farm turns out to be damaging to Caroline’s father’s mental health. He becomes paranoid that people are watching all of his actions; he eventually packs their things to run away again. They live as vagabonds on the city streets of Portland for a few weeks, actively evading being discovered by pedestrians and police. They move from Portland to the small town of Sisters, Oregon. Her father suffers a terrible injury that results in their separation. Frostbitten and on her own, Caroline makes her way to Boise, Idaho, where she finds the house where she lived as a very young child. Her arrival triggers a repressed memory of childhood, when her father abducted her from the house under false pretense. He justified his action by claiming that she was never really part of the family she knew, and he promised to return to Boise to get Caroline’s sister. Caroline walks to a school in the neighborhood and observes her sister living out what seems to be an ordinary life. At this moment, feeling a distinct lack of attachment to the ordinary social world, Caroline is thankful for her unique experiences.
Caroline leaves the school without meeting her sister and returns to Sisters. She works multiple part-time shifts and eventually receives her high school diploma. Meanwhile, she is conflicted by a desire to return to the kind of she had in Forest Park with her father, but has no idea how that might be accomplished. She spends her days watching the other girls in town, vaguely wishing she might one day find a suitable companion with whom to return to the wilderness. My Abandonment
is an atypical kidnapping story: rather than triumphantly leave her isolation behind, Caroline affirms and aspires to return to it. Rock’s story is a meditation on how people form and leave behind different attachments as they come of age.