‘Wild Game,’ a mother-daughter memoir by Aspen Words’ Adrienne Brodeur, to be published this week
Aspen knows Adrienne Brodeur as an ambassador to the literary arts — as the composed, witty and intelligent executive director of the literary nonprofit Aspen Words who takes the stage with authors to delve into their work.
But Aspen, and the rest of the reading world, is soon to learn much more.
Brodeur spent much of her life reckoning with the role she played in abetting an extra-marital affair her mother carried on from Brodeur’s teenage years through early adulthood. Once she’d sorted out the trauma and learned from mistakes and found her path outside the shadow of her narcissistic mother, she began trying to write her story.
Now, to Brodeur’s surprise, her memoir recounting the experience — “Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, And Me” — is one of the most anticipated books of the season.
“It’s exciting and it’s scary, too, for sure,” Brodeur said recently over coffee at the Aspen Art Museum’s rooftop cafe, anticipating publication and a media blitz that begins Monday with an appearance on the “Today” show. “Because with memoirs — unlike other genres — your life gets judged along with your writing and your book.”
“Wild Game” will be published Tuesday following two years of hype and often breathless prepublication attention.
The book has drawn early praise, not only from the industry press including Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal (both gave starred reviews) but from mainstream entertainment outlets. Brodeur and “Wild Game” have been featured in recent months in People magazine, Town & Country, Bustle, Business Insider and Entertainment Weekly, which called it “the next big memoir.” Vogue ran an excerpt. It’s a Book of the Month Club pick and a fixture on autumn most-anticipated lists. (Read The Aspen Times review on page A8).
“Wild Game” is positioned to follow the path of bestselling, acclaimed and hotly debated recent family memoirs like Tara Westover’s “Educated” and Jeannette Walls’ “The Glass Castle.”
Brodeur, a longtime book editor who splits her time between Aspen and Cambridge, Massachusetts, never thought of it in that way in the years she was working on it.
“When I was writing the book, I wasn’t writing for an audience and I wasn’t thinking anyone was waiting for it — I didn’t even really know why I was doing it at the time,” she said. “It was just this thing I was doing and doing and doing.”
She’d begun writing it to make sense of the experience for herself. To better understand how, beginning at age 14, she served as her mother’s confidante and co-conspirator, and in what ways her deceptions shaped her own struggles with depression and fraught relationships (including a marriage to her mother’s lover’s son).
As a child she was certainly blameless. But the memoir wrestles with why she continued to abet her mother into her 20s, eventually taking some shocking steps to sideline those who might expose the secret. Why did she continue as an accomplice for so long?
“That’s been the thing I’ve always wondered in my life,” she said, “and there’s the recovering and getting out from under that and the changing.”
The memoir opens the night when her mother, Malabar, woke up Brodeur to confess that she had kissed her husband’s best friend. The author always knew the book had to begin there.
“The next day, I was totally different,” she recalled. “It always seemed to me that’s where I was going to start from.”
While the narrative is unsparing in detail, it’s not salacious and isn’t looking to settle any scores. Brodeur writes with compassion about her mother — who is still alive but suffering from dementia — and about her young self. There also is an undeniable charm to Malabar’s boozy and self-involved approach to parenting in the 1980s, a far cry from the hyper-involved helicopter-parent standard of today. And there’s glamour in the sumptuously described domestic scenes in their Cape Cod home, where Malabar — a food writer and Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef — concocts lavish meals for her family, her lover, his family and other guests (“Wild Game” was to be the title of a cookbook, co-authored by Malabar and her lover, identified as the pseudonymous Ben Souther).
In the margins of the story, we see, too, Brodeur’s development as a reader and a writer. Her step-mother plies her with novels that help make sense of her twisted relationship with her mother. Her journal transforms from a child’s trifle to a grown-up confessional overnight, after her mother conscripts her.
Given the strange mother-daughter relationship at its center, Brodeur didn’t believe the memoir was bound for a wide audience.
“I couldn’t imagine a lot of people were going to relate to it,” she said. “I thought the writing was good because I worked very hard on it, but I never thought, ‘Oh, this is the one people are going to connect to,’ because it is shocking and it is unusual. I don’t think a lot of people have had a similar experience.”
Yet as she started sharing pages, Brodeur began hearing stories from readers about their own knotty mother-child relationships.
“People can relate to the power dynamic and to how much we love our mothers, especially when we’re young and in their thrall,” she said. “That’s the unexpected thing that people are relating to in the book.”
The public’s first glimpse of Brodeur’s story came in a 2012 “Modern Love” column for the New York Times titled “I Am My Own In-Law,” which takes a more flippant tone than the memoir.
An early draft of “Wild Game” drew bids from 14 publishers in September 2017 and earned Brodeur an unspecified seven-figure advance from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, capturing the attention of the publishing world.
The excitement of selling the book, however, was soon leavened by the realization that she would be sharing her most intimate memories with a reading public not predisposed to liking her. Brodeur recalled going to a book club meeting with friends, just days after she’d sold “Wild Game,” but before any of them knew about it. They were discussing a memoir that night.
“The first thing one of these intelligent and wonderful women said was, ‘Well, I thought the author was lying,’” Brodeur recalled. “I was like, ‘Ugh!’ It was this sudden realization that this is what I’m going to face.”
With “Wild Game” soon to reach readers, Brodeur is preparing for such scrutiny.
“It’s a startlingly different skill set to write a book versus going out and talking about it, especially in these tiny sound bites,” she said.
Her 30-stop book tour begins Monday in Manhattan and will come to Aspen and Denver in December. Several stops on the tour include public interviews with Aspen Summer Words faculty including J. Courtney Sullivan, Dani Shapiro, Richard Russo and Tom Barbash.
Movie rights to the book sold soon after Harcourt bought the manuscript. A film adaptation is in development by “Edge of Seventeen” writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig. Brodeur has read Kelly’s screenplay, which assuaged the standard author fears about Hollywood adaptations.
“She gets it,” Brodeur said of the filmmaker. “I’ve seen a brilliant first script. … Arguably, a lot of people will remember the movie and not the book, so it’s nice to know I’m not cringing. She knows it’s not some ‘Mommie Dearest’ thing.”
If the book is a success, it could afford Brodeur the opportunity to write full-time and drop her Aspen Words gig. Although she hopes “Wild Game” does lead to more books — she’s currently mulling a novel — she says she doesn’t plan to leave Aspen Words.
“I don’t think there’s a better literary job than the one I have,” she said. “What’s great about Aspen Words is, in addition to bringing people out here, it’s a lively network of writers and publishers. It’s been great for me.”
Brodeur said her work with Aspen Words, especially how it’s connected her with emerging writers sharing unpolished manuscripts, is what push her to tell her story in “Wild Game.”
“So many people were willing to share the raw stuff, so that made me more comfortable in that zone,” she said. “That all of these people are willing to be vulnerable in that way, I think it gave me courage.”
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