Trust and Betrayal in Fiction

When I told my husband the title of this blog, he responded, “But you can’t have trust and betrayal. You can have one or the other.” This is certainly true in personal relationships where betrayal negates any trust that has been established between two people. It is also true in our public life. In fiction as in life, trust and betrayal are often interwoven themes.

What Is Trust?

In my personal experience trust manifests in relationships in multiple ways and requires coordination between at least two people. First of all, can we believe what we tell each other? Can we have confidence that we will do what we have discussed doing? Can we rely on each other? Can we depend on each other? Can we expect each other to show up and do what we agreed upon beforehand? Can we confide in each other and have confidence that what we share remains between us? Can we believe each other? Can we depend on each other when we are facing challenges? Can we rely on each other to take responsibility for our actions and words? Can we trust each other to care for one another? To protect one another? To guard one another? Can we have faith in each other and count on each other to be there when we need help? Are we committed to each other and to our relationship, be it family or friendship, a working relationship, a romantic relationship, or a question of public trust?

When the answer to the above questions is “yes,” trust is sustained. Trusting relationships then inspire other affirming behaviors. Individuals who trust each other create long lasting alliances. Organizations founded on trust endure; those that are not built on trust, do not survive.

What Is Distrust?

The opposite of trust is, of course, distrust or mistrust.  In this case, the answer to the above questions would be “No, I cannot believe you. I mistrust you. I doubt you.” Distrust creates suspicion. It makes individuals wary of one another. In the public sphere, when trust is not present, people are guarded, even cynical. And, as happened yesterday on January 6, 2021, in these United States of America, lack of trust in the certified results of a national election was questioned by a mob egged on by the lies of a person who cannot be trusted. Nevertheless, as damaging as distrust might be, it is not as pernicious as betrayal.

What Is Betrayal?

Betrayal is more devastating than mistrust because it involves conscious duplicity. The untrustworthiness is deliberate. The deceit is premeditated. The dishonesty destroys any semblance of authentic relationship. In fact, the deceit may result in the destruction of life or property. Betrayal may occur in family relationships, romantic relationships, social relationships, and as unfortunately demonstrated in the USA yesterday, in politics.

Trust and Betrayal in Novels

Octavia E. Butler’s novels have been on my mind lately. In Parable of the Talents, trust and betrayal are crucial elements of the principal story line. The main character, Olamina, lost her mother at birth. Her father was murdered. Her stepmother and step-brothers were killed when their walled home was attacked and destroyed by a mob. As an adult, she founds her first Earthseed community, Acorn. Unbeknownst to her, one of her brothers was pulled from their burning home and saved. When they are reunited, her happiness is profound. Yet her brother disapproves of the community she has built. He attempts to convert her followers to a politicized form of American Christianity. When his conversion attempts are questioned, he leaves Acorn.

Soon afterward, the American Christians attack and seize Acorn. Her husband is killed and her infant daughter stolen from her. Olamina is enslaved, tortured, and raped by the murderers. When she escapes, she searches for her child. At one point, she goes to an American Christian free meal to gather information. There, she observes her brother giving the sermon. Horrified, she confronts him and tells him that his people have kidnapped her child and murdered her husband. He denies it. She continues searching for her child as she rebuilds other peaceful communities based on her Earthseed beliefs. Many years later when Earthseed is established nationally, her daughter, now an educated adult using her adopted name, contacts her. Olamina learns that her brother had found her daughter when she was only two years old, had let her know that he was her uncle, had told her that her mother and father were dead, had funded her college years, and had proceeded to act as her only remaining family. He deliberately orchestrated a sustained betrayal of his sister and his niece for years.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng, is a story of family betrayal as well. One daughter lies to her parents. The other children of the family betray their parents. The younger sister sees her sister leave the house in the middle of the night but doesn’t tell her parents—even when her sister cannot be found. Her brother knows that his sister has been seeing a boy but doesn’t confess his knowledge. The mother leaves the family without saying where she is going for several months. The father has an affair. Yet, as the story closes, the family’s torn relationships are healed through forgiveness and the re-establishment of trust.

In the recent novel, A Burning, by Megha Majumdar, issues of trust and betrayal are interwoven throughout the story which is told from the perspectives of three main characters. The structure of the novel brings out the personal nature of the sometimes devastating decisions that individuals make as they conduct their lives. Both a friend and a teacher betray an innocent young woman—making the story even more tragic to read.

Trust and Betrayal in My Novels

In real life, betrayal arrests forward movement, destroys relationships, and sometimes results in death. In fiction it creates movement and drama. The interplay between trust and betrayal provides the emotional tension needed to keep the reader turning pages and also results in unexpected endings. As I revise my own work, I am paying attention to the major and minor themes I want to highlight. One of my draft novels includes interpersonal betrayal. Another highlights social betrayal.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the month of December, I decided to take a break from my work on my first novel. My brain needed a rest. However, my recent ruminations about trust and betrayal will help me to move forward on this manuscript.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This month, I worked on a synopsis of this novel for my upcoming pitch meeting.

Add to the draft of my third novel by participating in the RMFW NovelRama in the spring, summer, and fall:

I plan to tackle this story again during the 2021 RMFW NovelRama sessions. I will flesh out my new characters’ perspectives to see what they bring to the story.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

This past year, I worked closely with Sandra Jonas Publishing to publish my poetry chapbook. Moon Chimes by Laura L. B. Border is now available on Amazon in print and e-book versions.

I have researched upcoming poetry contests for chapbooks. I think it is possible to enter Moon Chimes in at least one contest this year.

I also plan to work with Sandra Jonas to publish my Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences. The workbook can be used in coordination with the poetry book to create learning activities for adolescents in regular classrooms or in homeschooling. I have already completed a first draft and sent it out for some initial reviews. My goal is to finish it, send it out for a second round of reviews, revise it, and publish it in 2021.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

I was re-elected President of Boulder Writer’s Alliance and will continue to support the organization this year to the best of my ability.

In Gary Alan McBride’s Writers Who Read group in the beginning of January, we discussed A Burning by Megha Majumdar. The novel was nominated for the National Book Award in 2020.

Denver Women’s Press Club did not hold any events in December. However, the spring schedule looks superb.

The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter announced that in January 2021 there will be an online Pitch Fest. I signed up to pitch my second novel with an agent.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is January 7, 2021, I am posting my first blog of 2021. December was a busy month with all the seasonal and planning tasks I set out for myself. Nevertheless, I set aside time to enter one of my stories in a flash fiction contest. Then, I laid out my blog topics for 2021, decided which writing goals I want to achieve this year, and caught up on my novel reading.

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