Very occasionally, I’m part way through a book and I have to phone my best reading buddy and say, “Can you please start reading X immediately because I’m going to need to debrief.” She always complies. I did this recently, and a week later we spoke about Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur for a full hour.
Brodeur’s memoir is about her experience growing up with her charismatic and complicated mother, Malabar. When Brodeur was fourteen, Malabar woke her at midnight to confess that she had kissed her husband’s (Brodeur’s step-father) best friend, Ben.
Brodeur instantly became her mother’s confidante and accomplice, helping her Malabar and Ben spend time together.
Deception takes commitment, vigilance, and a very good memory. To keep the truth buried, you must tend to it.
The affair had ramifications for both families, and would impact Brodeur’s life in ways that she could have never predicted. There are many startling twists in this story, and moments that left me gobsmacked but I’ll leave out the detail for fear of spoilers. Instead, I’ll address the broad themes that made this memoir engrossing.
Firstly, the book begins with Malabar’s confession, but you have to wonder about what came before. I’m both fascinated and appalled when parents claim they are ‘best friends’ with their child – almost always these ‘best friend’ feelings are complicated and not reciprocal. And Brodeur’s story is a perfect example. She basked in her mother’s attention as a child, but as an adult saw that Malabar’s ‘love’ left her completely isolated.
What I knew then was that nothing made me feel more loved than making my mother happy, and any means justified that end.
I’d been the grownup in our relationship for so long – the one who advised and consoled and did the holding…
Brodeur is open about her own role in the deception – it would have been easy to claim she was manipulated by her mother (which she was) and that she was too young to know better (also possibly true) however, she is clear that she had something to gain – her mother’s love.
…at the very age I should have been breaking free, Malabar bound me to her with her secret. And although she’d been the one to initiate our unhealthy dynamic, I had perpetuated it.
Malabar’s narcissism was extraordinary. As Brodeur describes, Malabar grew up with a toxic, abusive mother, and experienced trauma – I had to keep this at the forefront of my mind as a possible explanation for Malabar’s manipulative behaviour, cutting remarks, sense of entitlement, and complete lack of thought for others, particularly her own children.
Finally, at the broadest level, the story reveals how family dynamics become ingrained, and reverberate through a person’s life and relationships.
Lying wasn’t wholly new to me. It comes with the territory when your parents get divorced and the two people you love and need most become adversaries.
In our family, being right trumped being truthful. There was no room for uncertainty, so you never let your guard down.
I had a sense of unease when I was reading this book, one that I rarely get when reading memoir – essentially, there’s a lot of dirty laundry, and it’s all relatively recent. Names have been changed, but I’m sure it’s no stretch to find out who’s who in Brodeur’s life. I wonder about the status of family relationships since Wild Game was published.
Mention must be made of the exceptional sense of place in this story – the descriptions of Malabar’s cooking and the Cape Cod house are superb.
…steamed, soft-shell clams that my mother and I had plucked from a nearby sandbar at low tide earlier in the day… dunked the bodies into hot broth and melted butter, and popped them into our mouths. A burst of ocean.
Unsurprisingly, this memoir is being made into a movie. – it will be a case of ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ and I hope that the filmmaker captures the emotional complexity of Brodeur’s story.
If you read this book, feel free to contact me and say, “The necklace! The wedding! Christopher!” – I reckon you’ll need a debrief.
4/5 Gripping and infuriating.
I received my copy of Wild Game from the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
The cocktail hour, a sacred ritual in our home, commenced immediately. My mother and Charles started with their usual, a tumbler of bourbon on the rocks, had a second, and then progressed to their favourite aperitif, which they called the ‘power pack’: a dry Manhattan with a twist.