At age 14, Adrienne Brodeur began abetting her glamorous mother’s extramarital affair. Forty years—and many, many twists—later, her clear-eyed memoir of its toll set off a 14-bidder U.S. auction.
“Very unexpectedly to me, believe me,” says Brodeur, who runs the nonprofit literary organization Aspen Words and co-founded Zoetrope magazine with Francis Ford Coppola. She wrote the manuscript without an agent or intended audience in mind, waking up most mornings at 5 a.m. to reckon with her complicated past.
“Don’t get me wrong, I felt like I was writing a strong book,” she says of Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Oct. 15), which ultimately sold for an unnamed seven-figure advance, “but also a singular and specific book. I did not see this as all the women in the world who abetted their mother in their extramarital love affairs were going to come climbing out of the woodwork.”
Instead, meeting with potential editors (many of whom had mother stories to share) drove home the unexpected universality of what she’d written.
“We all have mothers, and they’re incredibly powerful people in our lives,” Brodeur says. “It can be a very complicated relationship; that was what was relatable. So while I heard stories that were very different from mine, they all were similar in wanting love and wanting to please.”
“I knew only what pleased my mother; I didn’t have a moral compass,” Brodeur writes in Wild Game, remembering the sultry summer night in 1980, at her family’s Cape Cod beach house, when her mother, Malabar, woke her up to confess she’d shared a kiss with her second husband’s married best friend. Brodeur continues:
It would be years before I understood the forces that shaped who she was and
who I became and recognized the hurt that we both caused. What I knew then
was that nothing made me feel more loved than making my mother happy, and
any means justified that end. Starting when I was fourteen, what made my
mother happy was Ben Souther. With that, my lying took a dark turn. Lies of
omission became lies of commission. What began as a choice turned into habit
and became my conscience’s muscle memory.
Brodeur’s complicity in the resultant affair complicated her relationship to truth and desire for many years to come. Over time, distance, and therapy, she was able to forge her own identity, independent of her mother’s opinions and demands.
By the time Brodeur became a mother, she’d developed an allergy to lying.
“My kids will probably be in therapy for my insisting that every little truth is uttered in whole,” she says. “I do have an allergy to [lying]—I feel the need to be so transparent in my life, especially in my intimate relationships. You just do a tremendous disservice to yourself and to others, over small things, too, when you [lie]. Growing up in the environment I grew up in…in order to change it, you had to reject it whole.”
However, Brodeur cautions Wild Game readers against conflating that rejection with a wholesale rejection of her mother.
“I love my mother, and I hope that comes across in this book,” Brodeur says. “I really do. But do I feel like I got a lot of life’s important lessons from her? I do not. I feel like most of it was what I learned in response or in contrast.”
“Still, I would like readers to know that Malabar is not black and white,” she says. “Despite sort of the dubious parental instincts, she had a lot of great characteristics. She was actually a very loving person much of the time. She was great fun. She had a very complicated past—she was a survivor, and I do admire that. A lot of people who went through what she went through would have just curled up in a little ball and blown away. She didn’t. She couldn’t.”
Megan Labrise is the editor at large and hosts the Fully Booked podcast.