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Traumatic Effects

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Over these last few weeks, I’ve explored different aspects of my upcoming murder mystery Detached, with one particular theme primarily weaving through the layers of analysis. It’s a silent yet significant presence that reveals itself in different ways, invisibly anchoring the numerous elements that compose the story’s overall texture. This integral facet is trauma, which reverberates through every dimension of the plot.

It’s fascinating for me to discover, as I consider the complete work, how trauma always exists at the story’s center, no matter the angle. This entwining feature had not been an intentional element as I turned my ideas, so deeply affected by our political landscape, into a fictional tale. Yet whether the narrative lens focuses on alienation, crime, morality, hate, religious choice, or women’s voices, private suffering acts as a stabilized core. Each component links to an anguish that the novel’s heroines Wanda Lindstrom, Charlotte Murray, and Marcy Seele experience in direct ways, but are never able to discuss. They individually struggle while lacking any emotional support. So a poisonous strain circulates through the neighborhood without any collective effort to identify or address this malignancy, further strengthening its toxic hold.

Additionally, the misery of living in a divided society, where intolerance looms, only becomes more complicated by a brutal murder. This shocking reality escalates an ever-present dread that each of the protagonists secretly feels, coping in divergent ways. As a result of these difficult circumstances, traumatic effects impose on the women’s lives. When the murder investigation slowly reveals frightening details of this violent incident, emerging so close to home, Wanda, Charlotte, and Marcy find themselves more stranded than ever.

The trauma that they face, continually isolating them from others, mirrors much of what our nation confronts today. One societal wound after another strikes this country without sufficient means to challenge and, eventually, heal from the subsequent damage. COVID-19’s constant threats, already well-established in its cultural harm, combined with the rising power of right-wing extremism supply an endless source of anguish that isn’t adequately handled to encourage genuine alleviation.

Mass shootings too often shatter our public spaces without obvious, commonsense measures immediately enacted to protect innocent lives. Ingrained rights, which have decades of settled precedent to sustain their pivotal function in our legal system, are now disappearing. An aggressive minority viewpoint, steeped in religious ideology and intent on thrusting its distorted outlook on the entire country, arrogantly rejects the perspectives of America’s broadening diverse cultures. Conspiracy theories and proven lies are becoming normalized as effective tools for seeking and maintaining power, even when the electorate overwhelmingly disagrees. A major political party continues to strategize lucrative paths for destroying our democratic structure to secure unshakable dominance that invalidates voters’ choices.

In so many tragic senses, a general cruelty has dominated the orientation of our society, regularly demonstrating abusive behaviors toward a startled and helpless population. Each of the factors listed above disturbingly fuses together to generate traumatic effects that we all must navigate on our own. During these past few years, we’ve been forced to endure a perpetual series of upsetting disturbances that often seem to separate us even more, with one inhumane violation after another.

Yet I feel hopeful. Glimpses of inspiring resistance have been materializing in recent days. The voters in Kansas, who arrived in substantial numbers during the August primary to fight for abortion rights, is a profound reason to be optimistic. Additionally, the well-deserved and substantial monetary wins for Sandy Hook parents against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in the first defamation trial illustrate that fact and resilient integrity can triumph over barbaric, self-serving lies and greed. These two instances alone tell me that we are determining our way out of the darkness, coming together with the courage to dissent, not simply accept the dangerous damage so savagely inflicted upon us.

By continuing to move in such a positive direction, we can defeat the conditions that have enabled trauma to dominate our lives for numerous, difficult years. Indeed, through focused resolve, our nation may then achieve a supportive cohesion again, transcending extremism built on exclusion and hate.

I’m encouraged by this positive turn, yet I’ll still remain watchful with the knowledge that we’re far from fully surpassing this pervasive threat that has become so efficiently ingrained in our world. But every incremental step toward cultural inclusiveness, a recognition of rights that are not restricted by identity, an effort to protect as well as to value human life, and an embrace of supportive communities that welcome diversity will certainly help. In this way, we can both conquer and eliminate the potential for traumatic effects.

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.

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