The Residue of Trauma
by Irina Ember
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Pub Date 01 Oct 2023 | Archive Date 15 Jan 2024
A novel about unhealed trauma, and how it impacts behavior and relationships.
Nothing ever goes right for her. When she finds the courage to support a colleague, will she be redeemed or destroyed? Ruby is her own worst enemy. Showing great empathy for others, the floundering real estate agent masks lingering childhood trauma with poor decisions, inappropriate sexual encounters, and doormat-like behaviors. And when she stands up for the office receptionist, she inadvertently triggers a backlash that sends her reeling…
Desperate to undo the damage, Ruby struggles to understand why her choices always backfire. But when her interest in a handsome neighbor is rewarded first with love, then more abuse, the anxious survivor battles her instincts to believe this is just how things are. Will Ruby finally find the happiness she deserves?
With an intimate look inside the pain of Complex PTSD, author Irina Ember paints a sympathetic and insightful portrait of a person unable to enforce boundaries. As the reader roots for Ruby to recognize and advocate for her own needs, they will come to a greater understanding of how the ghosts of the past are difficult to dispel.
Bad Agency is a raw, revelatory novel about the ways trauma can shape a life.
2023 Kirkus Review for BAD AGENCY
In Ember’s debut novel, a real estate agent struggles to prevent her past from sabotaging her present.
Ruby lives under a cloud of anxiety and depression. A successful real estate agent in the Bay Area, she refuses to give in to self-pity, even when an irate stranger spits on her in the middle of traffic: “I have no right to complain about the pain inside my head, my body, my soul,” she claims. “So many people in this world have real suffering that is much worse than mine.” Ruby is haunted by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her mother and by a psychotic break she experienced decades ago. She struggles in her romantic life, as she has a tendency to prioritize the needs of the men she dates over her own. As she shepherds annoying and ungrateful clients through potential home purchases—often trying to ignore the addicted and mentally ill people who live on the streets right outside—Ruby fights to get a better hold on her personal and professional relationships. Ultimately, though, the relationship she most needs to figure out is the one she has with herself. The author’s prose captures Ruby’s sharp, obsessive inner monologue, as when she fantasizes about the new man in her life, a Burning Man fan in his 50s named Nate: “It was Sunday and I was scheduled to hold the open house for Ugly-Jacket Lady. I wished I could have stayed with Nate, maybe climbed onto the back of his scooter…I was still high from our encounter, and I couldn’t focus on anything, not that selling real estate requires more thought or consciousness than it takes to drool.” Ember highlights Ruby’s trauma a bit too emphatically—a more subtle introduction of the subject would likely have been more effective—but she effectively dramatizes Ruby’s pathology in a way that demonstrates the intractability of her pain. A short novel at less than 176 pages, this narrative offers a startling and often moving slice of contemporary life.
A raw, revelatory novel about the ways trauma can shape a life.