Book Review: A Complicated Mother-Daughter Relationship Is A The Center Of 'Wild Game'As a teen, Adrienne Brodeur helped her mother keep a long-term affair a secret. In her memoir, she writes of realizing that being her mother's confidant didn't equal the unconditional love she sought.
When I first googled the term "Malabar Brodeur," what came up was not, as I'd expected, her many New York Times columns or cookbooks, but rather a marriage announcement from March 17, 1974:
"BOSTON, March 16—Mrs. Malabar Schleiter Brodeur of New York and Henry Hornblower 2d of Boston were married here this afternoon... The bride, a staff writer for Time‐Life Books, and her husband, a vice president of Hornblower & Weeks‐Hemhill, Noyes, Inc., investment bankers, both have been married previously and divorced."
I'm being a tad disingenuous, I confess: What came up before anything else was Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, a new memoir by Adrienne Brodeur and the reason I was looking Malabar up in the first place. Still, it's fitting that other than her daughter's new book, Malabar's online footprint points first to a marriage, and to that one in particular. Malabar was married to Hornblower — whom the memoir calls Charles Greenwood, as Brodeur changed all the names except for her own and those of her parents' — when the event that kicks off Wild Game occurred.
"Ben Souther kissed me." Malabar woke her daughter up in the middle of a July night in 1980 to tell her this — that a man, her husband's best friend, had kissed her. "Aren't you happy for me, Rennie?" she asked after sharing more details once Brodeur had woken up enough to comprehend what was going on. "I looked at her face and into her eyes," Brodeur writes, "dark and dewy with hope, and all at once, I was happy for her. And for me. Malabar was falling in love and she'd picked me as her confidante, a role I hadn't realized I'd longed for until that moment." Brodeur was only 14 years old, but from that moment on, mother and daughter both took this new dynamic extremely seriously and, for years after, Brodeur became Malabar's best friend and willing accomplice.
Wild Game is a memoir, but it reads very much like a novel with a first-person narrator, bringing readers closely into scenes with vivid sensual detail that paints the atmosphere with the adoring eyes of the enthralled daughter the author once was. Food, in particular — Malabar was an accomplished cook, and passed her wide-ranging tastes to her daughter — is lovingly described:
"Then came the pièce de résistance: Ben's squabs, served family-style on an enormous carving board with grooves that caught their abundant juices... Roasted to medium rare, the meat was silky and tender, fine-grained and richer than I'd expected. The skin was fatty, like a duck's, and as crisp as bacon."
But what makes this book especially novel-like is how close Brodeur remains to the mindset she was in at the time of the events unfolding. For the first third or so, even as occasional lines hint at the more mature and removed author, the narrative stays close to the younger Brodeur's inability to see her mother as anything but a wonderful, glamorous, wounded woman who led a hard life and deserves happiness, no matter who might get trampled along the way.
It wasn't until Brodeur took a gap year before college that she was faced with anyone who dared to speak a bad word about her mother. In Hawai'i, after a morning joint shared with her stoner boyfriend, Adam, he asked her what she was escaping from; after unspooling the tale, how she helped her mother hide an affair for years, how she participated in alibiing her mother and orchestrating time alone for Malabar and Ben, Adam asks, "What kind of person would do that to her daughter?"
Brodeur immediately goes on the defensive: "Adam was getting this all wrong. He saw Malabar as perpetrator, not victim. I must have failed to relate the complexities of the situation, I decided." Of course, as Brodeur grew up, experienced more of the world, and got to see different points of view, her relationship with her mother became ever more strained, running hot and cold through dramas I won't share here for fear of giving away the stranger-than-fiction series of events.
It's not often we get to read about the sexual and romantic lives of people past middle age, since they're so often condemned by popular imagination to sexless existences, but Wild Game, for all its luscious prose and tantalizing elements, is ultimately about the slow and painful process of losing a mother. Malabar is still alive, if unwell, as of the book's ending, but Brodeur is no longer the girl who felt that being chosen to carry secrets was the same thing as unconditional love.
Ilana Masad is an Israeli American fiction writer, critic and founder/host of the podcast The Other Stories. Her debut novel, All My Mother's Lovers, is forthcoming from Dutton in 2020.