Secrecy as an Unfortunate Tool for Survival

Photo by Ahmet Sali on Unsplash

Over the past few weeks, I’ve reflected upon aspects of the writing process in the context of my own personal experience. It’s been a useful method to me for framing the various layers that I feel circulate within my upcoming murder mystery Detached. I guess that achieving a better understanding of myself helps me more clearly articulate the elements that I perceive to be fused within this story.

As a result, I feel more confident in my ability to explain these different, sometimes overlapping, ideas to you.

I believe that one of Detached‘s most prominent themes, continually entwining itself into each of the three main characters’ perspectives, is secrecy as a defensive mechanism. Wanda Lindstrom, Charlotte Murray, and Marcy Seele, the novel’s protagonists, individually utilize this figurative shield to cope with a shocking murder in their Riverton, Illinois community. Each heroine has a certain relationship to the victim, with varying degrees of intimacy, which propels her response to this unexpected brutality. So as the violent circumstances become more apparent, the women’s own secrets are further pronounced, often influencing actions to move down detrimental pathways.

But even though their individual responses are distinct, living alongside each other in the same townhome complex serves as an integral connection, a means of unifying three divergent perspectives. Their built-in knowledge of this setting, where the units’ excessive closeness limits private spaces, also brings the women together in a combustible manner. So tensions erupt, explosiveness occurs, and an overriding paranoia pollutes the air around them.

In effect, the homicide, which reveals itself after a chimney fire, reverberates within this small group of townhouses, causing an expansive trauma that only magnifies each character’s own secrets. Furthermore, this murder heightens the significance of inner doubts, insecurities, and fears to disruptive levels that impact the criminal investigation.

None of the women are aware of how their behavior influences the case, though, as they largely grapple alone with the evolving consequences of this violence in their neighborhood. Under psychological threat, frequently of their own making, secrets that range from religious identity to past encounters with the legal system intensify and distort each person’s ability to see the world with any real clarity.

Yet the repercussions of this distrustful mindset, however harmful to a fulfilling life, are secondary to the benefits that secrecy offers Wanda, Charlotte, and Marcy. Through the deliberate act of emotional enclosure, they each attempt to insulate themselves from lawful blame, physical danger, and psychological vulnerability.

The outcome of such an approach is a culture of extreme indifference, where division for the sake of personal survival mutates into an ultimate lack of connectedness. Thus, the need for enriching interaction, the human desire to relate, becomes submerged in a never-ending crisis that discourages authenticity out of fear.

This is the universe where Wanda, Charlotte, and Marcy live, unaware of how their secrets create partitions they could never fathom while also deepening an unspoken estrangement. By embracing, essentially strengthening, the barriers against divulging these key aspects of themselves, they sever any possibility of building meaningful attachments. But because of the distress this murder stirs within their neighborhood, removing self-imposed obstacles for a healthier recovery would seem to be the most logical reaction.

Of course, complications exist within these agitated relationships, inhibiting such unity, preventing the capacity to connect in order to achieve healing. But nothing worth obtaining is ever easy or simple. Keeping secrets, severing oneself further and further from others as a safeguard, remains the most attractive form of preservation.

I see this quad of townhomes in Riverton and its apathy as a microcosm of an attitude that seems quite prevalent lately. Naturally, Detached is an exaggeration of this idea, where a murder exacerbates the community’s fractured state. In general, though, I’ve noticed an emotional withdrawal, an overriding impulse to recede from collective responsibilities, as the unfavorable norm.

In my view, the shift to primarily digital interactions, a political system that appears more and more out of touch with the realities faced by the majority of Americans, and the numbing presence of a virus we have yet to master all contribute to an increasing and a debilitating separateness. Within this realm, secrets can be seen as the essence of ourselves, something we deliberately hold back so as to persevere in a society that simply doesn’t seem to care about the people residing within its borders.

Therefore, Detached is a representation of these feelings, a look at the coldness that’s evolved in my lifetime. Yet I continue to hope. I’d love to see this disengagement evaporate, experiencing a societal unity that erases my own daily worries as I watch these divisions grow. That’s my dream, where connectedness transcends the secrets that keep us all so far apart.

Alisa Burris

Alisa Burris is a literary fiction author whose work depicts alienated lives with glimpses of mystery blended into the narrative layers. Her novel Detached explores how three vastly different women cope with the trauma of a violent murder in their townhome community as they face private secrets of their own. In addition to writing stories that reflect today’s complex world, Alisa holds a PhD in English. Her dissertation specifically examines the fiction of Jewish-American women authors in the context of the cultural estrangement that they personally experienced during the twentieth century.

Leave a Reply