WRITER’S BLOCK: Adrienne Brodeur and “Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me”

Adrienne Brodeur. Photo: Julia Cumes.

Adrienne Brodeur, already an esteemed, bestselling author and formidable figure in the literary world has just released her stunning memoir, Wild Games: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me (Harcourt Mifflin) about her dark, conspiratorial relationship with her mother who is having an extra marital affair. We scratched a little deeper with the author…

INDULGE: Wild Game delves into your relationship with your complicated and charismatic mother, Malabar, and how she involved you in her extramarital affair starting when you were just fourteen. How did you know that now was the right time to tell your story?

BRODEUR: The night my mother woke me up to tell me that she’d been kissed by my stepfather’s best friend, I was only fourteen and my life changed instantly. I went to bed as my mother’s daughter and I woke up as her best friend and confidante, soon becoming a co-conspirator in an epic love affair, participating in years of elaborate subterfuge, and not stopping to consider the consequences of my complicity. It took years to contemplate and process my story. Truthfully, I don’t think I was ready to tell it until now. As a teenager, I wrote about the situation in journals, and as an adult, I first tackled it in lighthearted personal essays, thinly veiled fiction, and a romantic comedy script. But there came a point in my life when it became clear that playing the story for laughs undermined the shame I felt, and the genuine pain I was in and had caused others. I also became a parent in 2005, and knew that I did not want to mother as I had been mothered. To protect my children, I realized I had to reckon with my past, understand the ripple effect of family secrets, and stop the intergenerational pattern of trauma (of which my mother’s affair was not the only example) that existed in my family. Only then did I start to find the courage to confront my past head on, through memoir and in my own voice.

INDULGE: You’ve said that you didn’t want to write a Mommie Dearest. How is your mother-daughter story different?

BRODEUR: The mother-daughter relationship in Mommie Dearest is black and white. There’s a villain and a victim, end of story. My goal with Wild Game was to explore the gray zone, the bits of villain and victim that reside in all of us. Early in the writing process, I read Vivian Gornick’s The Situation and the Story and the following line stopped me cold: “For the drama to deepen, we must see the loneliness of the monster and the cunning of the innocent.” I taped that to my computer where I could consider it daily. My goal was to capture the truth of my relationship with my mother and write a nuanced book that explored our mutual humanity. In order to do that well, I couldn’t vilify my mother and protect myself. I had to examine the whole of it – her history, my history, and our dynamic – and write specifically and truthfully to create a universal story.

INDULGE: Can you talk a little bit about the title? Where did it come from?

BRODEUR: Wild Game was the title of a proposed cookbook that my mother and her lover – both married – came up with as a ruse for their affair. My mother was an expert chef who had a food column in the Boston Globe and wrote many cookbooks, and her lover was an avid hunter and fisherman who traveled the world in pursuit of these activities. The proposed wild game cookbook created a reason for the two couples to get together frequently: to test recipes. Her lover’s job was to provide the game – venison, wild boar, squab; my mother’s job was to create the feasts; and their unsuspecting spouses’ jobs were to critique the results. In this way, they were able to carry out their affair in plain view for over a decade.

INDULGE: You’ve lived in New York, Boston, and California, but much of the book is set on Cape Cod, where you’ve spent many summers. What makes Cape Cod such a special place for you?

BRODEUR: Simply put, Cape Cod is home. There was not a ton of stability in my childhood. My parents had an acrimonious divorce when I was five, and each went on to marry two more times. For years, my brother and I were shuttled on Greyhound buses between parents and places, but throughout all of it, Cape Cod was the constant. To this day, I experience a physical reaction as I approach the canal. When the landscape starts to change a few miles before the bridge – and maple trees and murmurings of starlings give way to scrub oaks and seagulls, and the air turns brackish – I feel a loosening, an inner calm, a sense of peace.

— Ghalib Dhalla

Read more on Adrienne Brodeur. Wild Games: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me (Harcourt Mifflin) is available HERE.