How Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” helped inspire Jenna Rae’s “The Third Eye”

The last couple of years have been tough. I find myself performing ongoing threat assessments as I read and watch the news. What does each policy change, each disturbing revelation, each breach of the public trust mean for our world, our country, our community, my family? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless, and I hate feeling that way. I started imagining how the same sorts of scary, disheartening changes we’re seeing on the global and national level would play out on a smaller scale.

Somehow this reminded me of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. In the play, there’s a struggle between old-fashioned Russian tradition and Western-influenced modernity. It seems to reflect the way my image of what America is or should be clashes with what it is becoming. There’s some strange circularity here: our idealized notion of American society conflicts with the pragmatic self-interest we find ourselves chafing under, in much the same way Russian society chafed under the emerging influence of capitalism. (Yes, I sit around comparing Russian lit to current sociopolitical trends. I’m just that cool.)

Out of this musing came The Third Eye. Briarwood is a charming town losing the battle to maintain its cohesiveness as private interests grind away at the social contract, and Brenda Borelli doesn’t know what to do. She has a place to focus her frustration and grief when a young rookie is murdered by her training officer. As Captain Borelli, Brenda feels responsible not only for Briarwood Police Department Officer Tami Sheraton’s tragic death but also for the corruption that appears to have led to it.

There’s something deeply satisfying about putting Brenda in a position to fight for the whole town against the greedy, the selfish, the shortsighted. What I particularly like about Brenda is that she knows she can’t save the world. She can’t fix her broken relationship or save her best friend’s wife or undo her mistakes or end crime or make things fair for everyone.

What she can do is try to make things a little better, and she dedicates herself entirely to doing so. She’s one small person working blind in an impossible situation, and I think that’s how a lot of us feel, especially now. I think of her as an absurdist hero. Things aren’t fair or reasonable, and it would be easy to turn a blind eye to what she can’t seem to change, but Brenda refuses to simply coast along in willfully blind complacency.

I root for Brenda. I want her to win, even though her victory won’t really change anything. I feel like her strength and courage and single-mindedness are emblematic of what most of us want to bring to the table. We don’t always know how to fight for what we believe in, but Brenda faces a clear choice. She’s willing to sacrifice everything to do what she believes is right, and I love her for that.

The Third Eye comes out on August 16th and is available for pre-order now.

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