One of my Book of the Month Club picks this month was the memoir, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur. I loved it. Personally, this rates as a 4.5 stars to me. Almost perfection.
So, there are no perfect parents, right? No matter what you do as a parent, your actions will always affect your children. The good, the bad. The small stuff, the big stuff. Some parent/child relationships are more toxic than others, though, and it can go beyond your usual standard for abuse. For example, burdening your children with things that they shouldn’t be worrying about. In my opinion, putting adult matters on a child’s shoulders is selfishly stealing the carefree aspect that is unique to childhood. Children aren’t meant know EVERYTHING that troubles an adult. This is the type of abuse that takes place in this story.
Adrienne Brodeur was a mere fourteen years of age when her mother giddily confided in her about her affair with her husband’s best friend of fifty years, Ben. Adrienne loves her stepfather but had spent her whole life vying for the attention of her mother, and thus eagerly became her only confidant in the affair for more than a decade. Her mother, Malabar, is known for being charming, intoxicating, and an extravagant cook. She is also utterly selfish, though it took years for Adrienne to see this. At the time, she simply idolized her mother and knew she had to help her mother achieve the love that she insisted she deserved. Malabar climbed the social ladder quite a bit when she married her current husband, Charles. He ended up having a stroke right before their marriage, but she went through with the marriage and took care of him. The diligent care she provided him starting slowly diminishing over the years of her affair. She soon hired a nanny, essentially, to care for him while she would sneak off with Ben. She held extravagant dinners featuring wild game that she would prepare solely so she could continue the affair under her own roof.
We see two perspectives through Adrienne’s eyes: one of the young adult, whose been brainwashed by her mother that SHE is the victim since her husband is not fully capable of taking care of himself. She tells her daughter that they’re doing the best thing, because she couldn’t leave Charles in his state, but that she craves the excitement that Ben provides to her life. Malabar spends a decade lying to her husband, to Ben’s wife (who is also her good friend), and asking her daughter to be complicit in the affair by lying for her and helping them set up dalliances. She idolizes her mother and constantly makes excuses for her. She knows that her mother had an dysfunctional childhood and pities her for the impact that had on her, even though she can’t yet see the way her own mother is impacting her.
Then, we see Adrienne growing into a woman. Her relationships with men have been entirely influenced by her mother’s actions. More than once she is unfaithful or is the other woman in a relationship… and she even ends up marrying BEN’S ADOPTED SON before the affair goes public. Her mother approves of this relationship because she thinks she will be able to see Ben more because of it. As Adrienne matures, she falls into a deep depression. She has mysterious stomach pains and anxiety, and thinks about killing herself. It isn’t until she’s in therapy that she realizes that subconsciously, she’s been agonizing over the fact that Malabar has terribly abused her relationship with her. Her mother always treated her as a friend and if Adrienne didn’t comply with whatever made Malabar happy, she would stop speaking to her, punish her with coldness, or hold her most prized possessions above her head. Malabar promises for Adrienne’s whole life that she will let her wear a family heirloom necklace when she gets married. I won’t spoil what happens there, but I assure you, it solidifies Malabar’s narcissism. Adrienne realizes her mother’s life will always be about what makes Malabar happy, even at the detriment to her daughter’s mental health. She eventually ends up cutting ties with her mom until she is at a more stable place in life.
There’s a lot I haven’t included about Adrienne and Malabar’s relationship because I want readers to still get something out of this book, to really see the depth of how Malabar mistreated her daughter.
Why do I love this book? Because it is a story about family. It’s not the typical heartwarming story. It shows that there can be an ugly side to family. As a kid, you don’t have a say in your environment or the way that people around you treat you. It is only when you get older that you look back at situations and wish you could have sheltered your younger self against them before they changed who you were. Wild Game highlights how we learn to live with what has happened to us, and how we learn to set boundaries and heal. It’s about loving people despite their flaws, but not having to accept the way that they affect you. It’s about forgiving yourself. I love Wild Game because it is a story of a woman who broke the cycle of abuse, and this novel is Adrienne’s enlightened proclamation to the world that you can live a healthy life after toxic parenting. One of the aspects I loved about this book was that it is this heartbreaking and ultimately, empowering true story set against a vivid Cape Cod background. You can truly tell Adrienne loved growing up in Cape Cod despite looking back at her relationship with her mother. She grew up clam digging, fishing, and eating these fresh, succulent catches. She spent her years combing the beaches for sea glass and treasures. The beauty she sees in the world around her offers relief from the story she’s telling. Often books with subjects like this can depress you while you’re reading them, but Adrienne contrasts the toxic relationship with a warm, inviting background. If you like memoirs or books that highlight the intricacies of family relationships, or subtly delve into the way environment can affect your psyche, this book is for you!