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On Trauma and Transformation in
Searching for Persephone
It all started with a single sentence Shannon had heard in her dream – “Persephone and Violet were stuck.” At first, she didn’t know what to do or think about the sentence, yet, she decided to follow its lead and discover where it would take her. In just a couple of weeks, the world of a young Canadian woman began unfolding seemingly on its own, leaving Shannon constantly curious and committed to capture what was coming next.
A year and a half later, in early October 2022 family and friends gathered to celebrate the release of her 500-page debut novel and with it, the birth of a new Canadian author – Shannon Perkins Carr.
“Searching for Persephone,” I recently wrote, “is a novel about human relationships and their importance to our well-being and our personal experience of life.” What I had in mind were all sorts of relationships, such as those inside families, among friends, or within communities. What I’d like to add now is that this story speaks also about the power of an individual, because it shows how a single person can affect others and change their life course forever.
The book starts in medias res (after a short Prelude). Violet arrives from Vancouver in Greece attempting to heal from the loss she experienced eight months prior. Without a warning or a reason, her best friend Persephone has died. In a day, the shock has detached Violet from the rest of the world and left her doubting whether she’ll ever be able to participate again in what we usually refer to as “normal” life.
To help extricate her daughter from her isolation and state of deep grief, Violet’s mother arranges for her to spend some time on the island of Crete, her own homeland, hoping that a new environment and family affection will help Violet find her way back to life.
So, this is a book about Violet’s healing journey, but if we step away from her trauma for a moment, we’d also be able to see a typical young woman in her early twenties. Violet has just completed a university degree and is filled with eagerness to find a fulfilling career path. However, things are not coming together as she’d hoped, and after quitting several jobs, she begins to worry about her future. She feels out of place and, unlike her best friend, totally unprepared for the struggles of adulthood.
Shannon is very skillful in depicting her main protagonist, especially in her portrayal of Violet’s conflicted personality.
For example, Violet appears to be a confident and strong-minded individual who questions reality and the societal norms she observes around her. Yet, she constantly doubts herself and feels utterly inadequate. Her indecisiveness and frustration with life’s expectations leads her to adopt an “I don’t know” mindset: I don’t know where to go, I don’t know what to be, I don’t know how to do, if I should, if I like, etc.
Another strong example is her constant requests to be left alone and treated as independent adult, but it’s more than obvious that she struggles with co-dependency. Everything’s set up to please Violet; her family members walk on eggshells always careful not to disturb her, or they run to rescue her, which she often doesn’t even acknowledge.
What I love the most about Violet are her strong interpersonal skills. She is very empathic in nature, and honestly feels for the other, always trying her best not to offend anyone. She is a great interlocutor and tends to connect with people through deep and meaningful conversation. While interacting, she comes across as someone who is spontaneous, playful, well-educated, witty, and above all, clear. In this domain she doesn’t struggle with what to say, or when, or how. However, she struggles to see that talent in herself and avoids sharing her strong creative voice with others.
Over and over Violet will cycle through these conflicted ways of being, not knowing how to find balance.
Her presence will largely affect people around her. As much as it seems that she is the only one carrying the weight on her chest, we quickly learn that others are struggling too. Most often unintentionally, she provokes her family members, neighbours, and others to reflect back on their life experiences and face their losses: loss of a child, loss of a brother, betrayal of a father or husband, lost childhood, peace, or hopes. Many of the characters will be called to dive deep within, searching for the things that were taken from them prematurely, and bringing to light suppressed emotions of heartache, anger, and helplessness. And all of this will make Violet’s healing journey emotionally very intense.
Searching for Persephone has three distinct parts in which we follow three stages of the trauma and recovery process:
Part 1: Shock and inability to properly function
Part 2: Coming to terms with the harsh facts of life
Part 3: A new start
Violet’s initial shock and deep depression take place in her home in North Vancouver. A short stay in Greece shakes her up and she begins to process her trauma. Although wrestling with guilt, she starts enjoying herself and experiencing life in a way she hasn’t before. Slowly but surely, she starts talking about her loss, finding the strength to express emotions that were, until then, overwhelming and intrusive.
As she heals she begins to see a possible new future. But none of her plans go through, as she faces many unforeseen challenges and tests. Violet has to put up with a lot of uncertainty: the pandemic, delays, restrictions, her indecisiveness, and the dissolving of relationships. Feeling completely out of control, she becomes extremely anxious, but her moment of crisis is also her turning point.
Through therapy she begins to understand that there is no way forward without looking back and processing the pain. Little by little, she starts making sense of the things that have happened to her and more importantly, she starts building new interests, new skills and a new attitude towards life. With every new step, her self-confidence and resilience grow.
At the final stage, we meet a new Violet. This one knows what she wants, but she’s not rushing through the process to get there. Quite the contrary, she is very patient with herself and others.
Violet at last has arrived at the place where she feels things are happening for her, sometimes without realizing that she is the one who has changed. She is still very emotional, but grounded; she has a vision for her future, as well as a practical plan; she is determined but adaptable; she is self-sufficient yet open for collaboration. With this new energy, Violet will touch every person she meets and motivate them to create brand new chapters of their own lives.
“So much life from all this death,” is a sentence spoken by one of the characters and this can be perceived as the leitmotif of this book. Without so many deaths there wouldn’t be so many transformations, rebirths and new beginnings. I believe Shannon must have known that well, when she chose the powerful title for her book. “Searching for Persephone” (diving into the underworld) implies that the time has come for her characters to properly process and integrate the hardest facts of their lives, so they can continue living fully.
However, Shannon certainly didn’t neglect to take us to the opposite side (high above the ground) and present us with the beauty of human existence on Earth. I am sure readers will enjoy learning more about the different cultures and traditions (Greek, English and Canadian), various locations in North America and Europe (oceans, beaches, rivers, hills, and towns) and interesting and somewhat unusual career choices (music therapists, craftsmen, cave art and ocean researchers, spiritual seekers). Despite many painful endings, there is an abundance of love, passion and joy in the new lives her characters create for themselves.
©October 2022, Nataša Ćećez-Sekulić
If Natasa's words have resonated for you, why not check out her fascinating memoir,
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