When Adrienne Brodeur was just fourteen years old, her mother came into her room to wake her up. She sat down on the edge of Adrienne's bed and said, "Ben Souther just kissed me." There was a problem, though. Ben Souther was the best friend of Adrienne's stepfather. Her mother, Malabar, had begun an affair with her own husband's closest friend—and now she was confessing it to her daughter.
We all have had summers to remember, but Adrienne Brodeur's is worth telling in a memoir. A really, really good, well written memoir—a book that we put in our top 3 picks for Best Books of the Year. What began one summer at their family house on Cape Cod would turn into a relationship that would draw in young Adrienne, as Malabar and Ben sought to live out their affair practically in plain sight. Eager to win her mother's affection, Adrienne became a co-conspirator.
There's even more to the story in Wild Game. And there's so much depth and great writing. I recently caught up with Adrienne Brodeur to talk about her experience writing the book, and whether her own daughter had read it.
Chris Schluep: So, how long did you work on the book?
Adrienne Brodeur: It depends on how long you quantify. It was decades of processing, if you're including that. Actual writing time was about two and a half years. But I think that was a short time, because of the decades and decades of processing that came before the writing.
And for you, what was the biggest challenge of writing the memoir?
You know, probably everyone's biggest challenge, which is getting it right. My chief concern was I didn't want to write a sort of a Mommie Dearest-style book. I didn't feel like my mom was all evil and I was all good. I wanted to write it all in the gray zone.
there was this Vivian Gornick quote that I read as I was in the early part of writing the book. It’s from The Situation and the Story. I might mess it up a little bit, but the basic is, “In order for the drama to deepen, you must show the loneliness of the monster and the cunning of the innocent.” And I just was like, that's it. I need to show Malabar’s complexities. And she really had a tragic life. There are things that might have led her to make, you know, some unfortunate decisions, which she did as a mother. And I also was really fascinated by the fact that you can’t hold me blameless as a fourteen year old. Instead of leaning out at various points, when I tried to, I also got caught right back up. I was really interested in exploring that.
Did your mother help you with the book at all?
Probably about five years ago, when I knew I was going to do it and write it directly as memoir, I told her about it. And she did lend me support. She was a big chronicler of her own life, so she had scrapbooks and lots of photo albums. And then I also had this trail of recipes to follow from when she was writing—so in her cookbooks, and in her Globe articles, and her travel pieces for the Times, I could really kind of cross reference. You know, as you might imagine, writing a memoir is… I mean, it should be basic, like we all know our timeline. Figuring out your own timeline is harder than you think.
I believe that.
I mean you start with these big hits like, okay, I graduated from college, and then you do the finer things. And you find something in a journal and something here.
This is a very personal memoir. It's not your whole life but it’s part of your life. What's it like to have it out there?
It's been challenging for sure. When you're writing something—I can only speak for myself—but I wasn't sort of writing thinking, hey, there are going to be a ton of people who are going to relate to this story, because it seemed like such a quirky and odd story. And I thought I'd written a good book and I worked very hard on it. But it's been a surprise. One of the nice parts about it is all the people—and this has been hugely unexpected—who come up to me and say, “I feel like you wrote this book for me.”
I think the universal thing that I didn't really think about when I was writing it is we all have mothers, and they are these very powerful people in our lives.
The other thing is, you know, I'm not alone in having this sort of legacy of secrecy or deception in my family that I was determined to try to put an end to. That's the other sort of comment I get—about people who are struggling to do the same thing, people who might have always worried am I going to become my mother, am I going to become my father?, and trying to prevent that eventuality while still loving their parents.
Has your nuclear family read the book?
Well my eleven-year-old, no. He's not interested.
I happen to have a daughter who is exactly the age I was when my mother woke me up, which has been a really interesting kind of aspect to the whole story. Part of what's interesting about it is, of course, when you are fourteen, you think you're an adult and you think you know everything. And certainly when I was reflecting back on myself, I felt sort of, yeah, I thought I knew what I was doing at the time. Then I see my daughter, who is lovely and intelligent and graceful and mature; but she is also still a child.
So, to answer your question, one day this summer I came out of my bedroom and into the living room. And there she was bathed in Cape Cod sunlight with a copy of the galley opened—and she knows the story, and I always told her she could read it whenever she wanted to. And I was kind of like, uh oh, this is happening.
And here's where I'm going to spin what actually happened, which is that she put it down. And so, instead of thinking I've written a really boring book, the way I've chosen to interpret it—as someone who was completely obsessed with her mother's interior life—is I feel like I've succeeded. She is someone who loves world-building fiction, like Rick Riordan and Greek mythology and the Odyssey and, you know, probably… she says she wants to go back to it, she said she really liked it. But the fact is I'm so psyched that she's got her own fourteen-year-old life and this is not the biggest deal.
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