After a lifetime as her family’s secret keeper, Adrienne Brodeur faces the truth, finds compassion for her mother and breaks a generations-long pattern of dysfunction.
The best memoirs can resonate with readers who are the furthest removed from the book’s events. These stories gently tug on knotty threads and unspool to reveal a common humanity. For most readers, what happens to Adrienne Brodeur in her memoir, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, is incomprehensible. But in Brodeur’s talented hands, every reader who has ever had an unhappy mother can relate.
First, the story: One night, when Brodeur is 14 years old, her mother, Malabar, wakes her up. Malabar was a divorced journalist and cookbook author who moved her children to Massachusetts to live with her wealthy new husband, a man who became ill not long after their marriage. On this life-altering night, Malabar gleefully shares with her daughter that a charismatic family friend, Ben—also married to someone who is not well—had kissed her.
Behind their spouses’ backs, Ben keeps kissing Malabar, and then some. A giddy Malabar updates her adolescent daughter about every twist and turn as the affair unfolds, from the beaches of Cape Cod to hotels in New York City. Together, the three keep the affair a secret from both families. The deception seems to eat away only at Brodeur.
Still, Brodeur is pleased to be let into her enigmatic mother’s secret world. She counsels Malabar on how to hide the affair and even provides cover stories—uneasily, of course, but Brodeur had been manipulated into believing that “this affair was being conducted with everyone’s best interests at heart.” Throughout high school, college and young adulthood, her mom’s forbidden romance consumes Brodeur. She dreads the day it might become known and hurt people she loves. (No spoilers, but what happens to both families is more complicated than the reader could ever imagine.)
The book is causing a stir in both the publishing industry and Hollywood. Fourteen publishing houses bid for Wild Game at auction, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt paid a seven-figure advance. Brodeur sold the film rights to Chernin Entertainment, and filmmaker Kelly Fremon Craig (The Edge of Seventeen) is helming the adaptation. Like any memoirist, Brodeur is nervous about how such a personal story will be depicted on screen. But she’s read a first draft of a screenplay “that managed to capture all the emotional truth and essence and yet be very much its own thing,” she says.
“For all of us people in the world who do have difficult childhoods or hold some secret, I hope the book demonstrates that, by facing them, we can all get out from under them.”
Now 53, Brodeur says there wasn’t a specific moment when she knew her life story could be a memoir. (She had a long history of shepherding other writers’ stories into existence, first as co-founder of the literary magazine Zoetrope: All-Story with director Francis Ford Coppola, and now as executive director of the literary nonprofit Aspen Words.) A turning point came 14 years ago, she says, when she became a parent and experienced the mother-child bond from the other side.
“It dawned on me that I really needed to reckon with my past and that I didn’t want to repeat these—it’s sort of catchphrase-y—but inherited traumas, these things that had happened to me that seemed to have happened to generations of my family,” she says.
The “things” to which Brodeur refers are infidelity, violence, narcissism and alcoholism. Additionally, Malabar suffered the death of her first child, Christopher, who choked to death at age 2, and an ensuing acrimonious divorce from Brodeur’s father, New Yorker writer Paul Brodeur. Adrienne acknowledges, “[My mother] had a much, much more difficult childhood and life than I ever did.”
But does a difficult life absolve Malabar of her mistakes? Brodeur says, “The surprising thing that took place in exploring what was a complicated part of my life was how . . . the need to forgive [my mother], on some level, took a back seat to the need to understand her.” While researching for the book, Brodeur returned to her own journals from this time, and she read through her mother’s copious notes on recipes and articles. “As I researched her life and put myself in her shoes, it became a path to forgiveness,” she says. “My heart expanded from going through this process. I truly believe that my mother did the best job she could, and obviously, she made enormous mistakes.”
It would be easy to dismiss Wild Game as shocking family drama. But Brodeur weaves together the story of her parentified childhood, the burdens of secret-keeping and her mother’s traumatic life such that we learn from her bottomless compassion.
“It’s a story of resilience and breaking patterns,” she says. “For all of us people in the world who do have difficult childhoods or hold some secret, I hope the book demonstrates that, by facing them, we can all get out from under them.”
As Brodeur faces her family’s secrets in Wild Game, she reveals the beauty in humanity’s messiness—most of all her own. And as with only the best memoirs, we the readers are better for it.