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Traumatic Love by Ellen Hoil

⭐⭐⭐⭐


Books perform many functions. They entertain, yes. They are also portals to many thoughts, feelings and experiences that one may not live otherwise. Then there are books that sensitise reader to mindsets, emotions and behaviours that may seem difficult to fathom but have strong roots and basis. This book achieves all three.

Dr. Nydia Rogers is the Chief of ER at Riverview Hospital. Professionally she is a dedicated doctor and personally she keeps mostly to herself. She has one friend, one of the nurses, Trudy, with whom she goes back decades. While Nydia runs the department efficiently she faces constant haranguing from Dr. Goddard about her gender and sexuality. Not to mention that Goddard is also lackadaisical about his work and blames her for pulling him up. Inexplicably, she keeps a civil tongue in her head with his despite his disgusting vitriol.

Jo Powers is a cop mostly working in cases of domestic abuse. While responding to one such attack, Jo is hit on the head by the wife of the perp aka, the woman being beaten up, herself. Thus Jo finds herself in the ER and under Nydia’s ministrations.

The two women have a magnetic pull towards each other till Nydia learns that a cop and immediately shuts down creating a massive gulf between the two of them. The connection between them draws them irresistibly towards one another. However, Nydia has a past that she hasn’t dealt with and the going in rocky – till past issues are resolved.

Writing about Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence can never be easy and in this one, that forms a large part of the context and character development. Right in the beginning, Hoil underscores the fact that people in an abuse situation often make excuses for the person abusing them (ref: the woman being beaten was the one who swung the baseball bat on Jo) and a depressing number of people go back into their toxic environments.

Jo has been witness to domestic violence as a child. However, her mother removed Jo and her sister, Electra, from the acidic environment as soon as their father turned on the girls. Jo is healed and grown up to be a sorted, steady person. The love between the mother and the two girls forms Jo’s bedrock. Since she is a well-adjusted human being, Jo can do her work effectively, taking joy in the miniscule percentage of people who get out of their putrid environments with law intervening at just the right moment. The past exposure to violence and the love that now surrounds her makes Jo capable of loving with an unwavering staunchness that may not have been understandable otherwise.

Nydia is psychologically a much more complex character. The extent of her past experience is revealed slowly through the narrative but right from the start, you know there is much more going on with her. When she freezes Jo for being a cop, you know that there are layers to her. Through the story, she flip-flops, lashes out and has irrationally strong negative responses that she unleashes on Jo. Jo remains staunch and stalwart through it all, figuratively holding Nydia through her roiling emotions.

Before you get an idea that Nydia is just an unreasonable handful, we’d like to clarify, she is also loving and giving in perfect ways. There is one moment when Nydia looks at Jo, has overwhelming emotions and thinks that she never wants to stop feeling that way about Jo. This was one of the most beautiful moments of love we’ve seen. And this, right here, is Hoil’s achievement. Nydia fluctuates rather wildly and widely, but Hoil writes in a way that you can somehow sympathise with her. You are right there with Jo in wanting to soothe. In wanting to understand. In wanting to protect. In wanting to engulf Nydia in love.

The relationship between Nydia and Jo is a fine balancing act that Hoil addresses superbly. At one point, when as a reader you feel okay, now this is just too much, Jo responds in the exact same way. In her conversation with her friend, Duncan, she expresses the exact same sentiments that you feel about the emotional rollercoaster that Nydia and their relationship is. With that Hoil scene and exchange, establishes that Jo is not a doormat and not unaware of the yo-yoing. She is fully cognizant and is choosing Nydia over and over. That is what love should always be – you choose someone in their completeness. And this scene strengthens the romantic aspect of the story immeasurably.

The psychological conditioning that the environment you are brought up in has a very, very far-reaching impact. Without overtly stating this, this fact is laid bare in the fact that Nydia allows Goddard’s insubordination, venom and attacks for as long as she does.

(On reflection, it is easy to see why Nydia’s emotions go haywire when her relationship with Jo starts. In order to exist, Nydia has suppressed her feelings and memories. As her emotions for Jo grow, the Pandora’s box of all her emotions is opened and she is just churning with all these feelings she hasn’t named or acknowledged. It is little wonder that she is all over the place.)

Sensitisation to others, an understanding of other ways of being and an ability to empathise with reactions that could and would seem irrational – this book achieves these and creates a profound impact. Reading it was a definite emotional growth for us.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

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