My Mother, Her Lover, and Me
By Adrienne Brodeur
Near the end of Adrienne Brodeur’s exquisite and harrowing memoir, she makes this powerful statement: “Malabar was the only mother I had, but she was not the mother I wanted to be.” “Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me” tells the story of the author’s long, complicated and ultimately successful struggle to extract herself from her charismatic mother — a textbook narcissist for whom “love was conditional” — to become a different kind of partner, person and parent. The book is so gorgeously written and deeply insightful, and with a line of narrative tension that never slacks, from the first page to the last, that it’s one you’ll likely read in a single, delicious sitting.
It is a painful fact of human nature that the people to whom we bond most quickly and completely — our parents — are those who can inflict the most lasting harm. And Brodeur’s mother, as befits her uniquely glamorous name, is truly spectacular. The first time we see “Malabar in action,” it is as the “five-star general” in the kitchen of the family’s picturesque Cape Cod summer home, hours before “the happy creak of corks announced that dinner was ready.” Malabar is “unwrapping the headless birds, lining them up on the countertop and blotting their cavities dry with a fresh dishtowel” while her husband, Charles — Brodeur’s beloved stepfather — “stands on the sidelines” and the dinner guests, soused after a “sacred” cocktail hour, look on in anticipation. One of the guests, Ben Souther, will be Malabar’s lover for years. And the accomplice who makes the affair possible? Brodeur herself.
On the night Malabar confesses her attraction to Ben to her daughter, then 14, she says: “I’m going to need your help, sweetie. I need to figure out how to do this. How to make this possible.” A ridiculous, hideous request, and of course there’s only one way Brodeur, whose goal in life has been and will continue to be making her mother happy, can respond: Yes. “Joy had fallen from the night sky and landed in my mother’s voice,” Brodeur explains, and she is consumed with keeping it there. For decades, when other young girls are coming into their own understanding of their likes and dislikes, Brodeur is becoming an expert liar and gobbling Tums like candy from the stress. She lies to Charles, she lies to her brother and, most disastrously, she lies to herself. “I knew only what pleased my mother,” Brodeur writes. “I didn’t have a moral compass. … Starting when I was 14, 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 choice turned into habit and became my conscience’s muscle memory.”