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Her Mother Asked Her to Help Hide Her Affair. Now She’s Reflecting on the Damaging Family Secret

2 minute read

When Adrienne Brodeur was 14 years old, she learned that her mother Malabar was having an affair with her stepfather’s best friend. It was no accident that the teenager knew — Malabar woke her daughter in the middle of the night to announce the news: “Ben Souther just kissed me.” And so begins Brodeur’s twisty memoir Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me.

It’s easy to forget that Brodeur’s intimate retelling of her formative summers spent on Cape Cod in the 1980s is a work of nonfiction; Malabar comes across like the quintessential lead of any page-turning romance. Brodeur, a book editor for many years, describes her mother colorfully, from the extravagant dinner parties she threw to the glamorous clothes she wore, and offers a striking portrait of a woman chasing happiness with an impossible love. Even as she betrays him, Malabar feels a palpable and wrenching love for her husband, an older man in declining health.

The memoir grows more complex as the relationship between mother and daughter crosses into uncomfortable territory. Brodeur becomes Malabar’s confidante, a role that is at first fun — almost everyone in the story is lusting after her attention — but quickly turns inappropriate. She struggles with immense guilt for her involvement in the affair, in which she helps her mother lie to the man who provides for their family.

In fiction, affairs tend to follow a familiar arc — excitement gives way to heartbreak, with spouses unmoored and families irrevocably changed. But Brodeur dissects the real-life ramifications of an affair in layered detail. She writes honestly about how being recruited to participate in such a betrayal has impacted her own ability to love and trust as she becomes a partner and a mother herself. Wild Game, which is being adapted for the big screen by the filmmaker behind The Edge of Seventeen, follows Brodeur as she comes of age and begins to question how a parent could implicate her child in such a gnawing, damaging secret. Though the affair is captivating enough to read on its own, Brodeur’s reflections on the impact of our parents create the memoir’s center. She is haunted, like many are, by the prospect of becoming the person she most loathed and loved.

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Write to Annabel Gutterman at annabel.gutterman@time.com