Wild Game by Adrienne Brodeur is the fall 2019 Kelly’s Pick, and we want readers to have everything they need for a fantastic book club meeting, including insight from the author! Bookish chatted with Brodeur about her memoir, which explores her relationship with her mother and the way her mother’s affair shaped both of their lives. Here, Brodeur opens up about finding the right time to share her story, the message she hopes readers take from the book, and the significance of the publication date.
Bookish: This book takes an intimate look at your childhood and family dynamics, and includes memories that are both joyous and painful. How did you decide you were ready to tell this story?
Adrienne Brodeur: I thought I had a pretty good handle on my past, but when I decided to start a family of my own, I realized that I still had work to do. Having children requires revelation, and I knew with certainty that I didn’t want to mother as I’d been mothered. I still needed to reckon with how I had been raised in order to be sure that I didn’t inadvertently repeat familial patterns. The best way for me to do that, it turned out, was by confronting the past head-on in this memoir.
Bookish: What was your writing process like? Was writing this story cathartic for you?
AB: I got a toehold on writing Wild Game during a three-week residency program, which was enough to motivate me to start writing daily. I woke up every morning before 5am and had a rough draft in a year. In order to write well about my mother and our relationship, I had to put myself in her shoes and, in doing so, I developed a deep compassion for her. In her lifetime, my mother endured some unimaginable losses, including the death of her first child. The writing process, it turns out, is a highly empathetic endeavor, and forgiving my mother took a backseat to understanding her. In this way, writing Wild Game was a heart-expanding process.
Bookish: You’re an avid journaler. How did having those old entries help to shape this book? Did your journal entries from your childhood mostly match your memories, or did you find they were sometimes different?
AB: As a memoirist, I am lucky to come from a family that chronicles their lives. My mother gave me access to a bounty of food notebooks, recipes, travel articles, cookbooks, scrapbooks, and photo albums and I have kept journals since I was a young teenager. My diary entries informed Wild Game more than they shaped it. From the outset of the book, I knew which scenes I wanted to explore–and those were accurately seared into my memory (perhaps precisely because I’d written them down). I looked to my journals mostly for connective tissue and to understand my frame of mind during different periods of my life.
Bookish: In the book, you talk about the significance of sharing a birthday with your late brother Christopher. That birthday happens to be the day this book is being published. What went through your mind when you learned of the publication date? Does it feel, in some ways, like the story is coming full circle?
AB: Once I got over the shock of the proposed publication date, it indeed felt strangely right, and in just the way that you suggested: like the story had come full circle–only this time, I had more agency in the narrative.
Bookish: There are so many layers to the title of the book: It references the cookbook Malabar works on with Ben, as well as their affair, and the challenges of keeping your mother’s secret. How did you come to settle on Wild Game as the title?
AB: I had a different working title when I began the book, but when I wrote the chapter where my mother came up with the idea of a wild game cookbook as a ruse to cover for the affair and create reasons for the two couples to spend time together, Wild Game–with its double entendre–revealed itself as the perfect title.
Bookish: Just from reading this book, it’s clear that Malabar cooked many memorable meals for her family and friends. Does one stand out for you above the others? Why?
AB: As most meals were events in my mother’s home–extravaganzas that could last hours–it’s impossible to single out the most memorable one. However, I do remember a period, when my mother was perfecting her donut recipe, as the best culinary experience of my childhood. I might have been ten at the time, and every Sunday morning for months the sweet aroma of fried dough and cinnamon filled our kitchen. The donuts were served with hot tea and, as a family, we assessed the relative merits of each batch, taking into consideration shape (crullers, holes or circles), delicacy of the cake, and most importantly, crunch factor.
Bookish: It must have been very difficult to anticipate how readers would react to Malabar. Was this something you thought about as you wrote this book?
AB: Yes. My goal was to capture the truth of my relationship with my mother and write a nuanced book that explored our mutual humanity. Early in the writing process, I read a line that Vivian Gornick wrote in The Situation and The Story: “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.
That said, one of the most difficult things about writing a memoir is that it is not just your book and your writing that gets judged, it is your life, too. Interpretation is, of course, the readers’ right, but that interpretation often says more about the reader’s perspective than it does about the book.
Bookish: The cover features a photograph of your mother as a young girl. What drew you to this photo in particular? Did you consider other options or was this the favorite from the start?
AB: When I first discovered that photograph in my mother’s file cabinet, I thought it was a picture of my daughter. When I showed it to my husband, he thought it was of me. It turned out to be my mother, Malabar, circa the mid-1940s. It’s an iconic shot: a girl on a boat gazing at the horizon. Immediately, I wondered what she was thinking and what her future held. I posted the image on Instagram because I thought it was a beautiful shot. From there, my editor identified it as the perfect jacket photo.
Bookish: The book ends with you reflecting on your relationship with your own daughter, and you recently shared on Instagram that she was reading Wild Game. What was it like to share this story with her?
AB: On that particular August morning, I found my daughter reading Wild Game. As far as I know, she didn’t finish it that day, which is 100% okay with me. Having spent so much of my childhood overly concerned with and involved in my mother’s life, I am gratified that my daughter, at 14, puts her own friendships and activities first. She knows the story behind the book, but as far as she’s concerned, that’s the past and it doesn’t have too much to do with her.
Bookish: Margot says at one point, “You have no idea how much you can learn about yourself by plunging into someone else’s life.” Is there anything you hope readers, particularly those with complicated relationships with their mothers, take away or learn about themselves from reading Wild Game?
AB: I hope that readers, especially those with complicated childhoods, know that they can move beyond their pasts. When we deny our stories, they have power over us. When we confront them, we’re able to move toward a brighter future.
Adrienne Brodeur began her career in publishing as the co-founder, along with filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, of the fiction magazine Zoetrope: All-Story, which won the National Magazine Award for Best Fiction three times and launched the careers of many writers. She was a book editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for many years and, currently, she is the Executive Director of Aspen Words, a program of the Aspen Institute. She has published essays in the New York Times. She splits her time between New York City and Cape Cod with her husband and children.