Elena Bowes spoke to American author Adrienne Brodeur about her best selling memoir, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover and Me.
Can you talk about how writing this book was cathartic for you, how it helped you to have empathy for your narcissistic mother?
Writing “Wild Game” was cathartic in myriad ways, but nothing gave me more empathy for my mother than researching her past and putting myself in her shoes. No one’s life is easy, but her life was more traumatic than I’d previously understood and knowing about it gave me insight around why she was the way she was and her need to survive.
You mention that when you eventually did write your memoir, you first asked your mother if she minded, and she said that she didn’t. Was she not worried what people would think? And if she had said no, might you have written the book anyway?
I didn’t mean to suggest that my mother was completely sanguine about my writing a memoir about her involving me in her extramarital love affair – I’m not sure anyone could be – but I do think she understood why I needed to write “Wild Game,”and trusted me to portray our relationship fairly. I am grateful that she gave the book her blessing because it would have been much more difficult to write had she not.
I think it’s fascinating that earlier on the same night that your mother told you, age 14, she’d kissed your stepfather’s best friend Ben Souther, you had experienced your own romantic tangle on the beach in Cape Cod. Did you ever stop to think what your life could have been like had your mother not involved you in her affair, had you been able to experience a healthy adolescence?
The truth is I don’t spend a whole lot of time reflecting on “what if” scenarios. I never have. We each get only one childhood, and to unravel any single thread is to risk unraveling the whole. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I had any other past than the one I had. And the truth is, I love my life – I’m happily married, raising two wonderful children, and have been able to work in the literary world for most of my career.
And related to that question, you write that your brother Peter escaped this dysfunctional triangle of your mother, her secret and you. Did you often wish that you could have been as innocent as he was?
I never meant to suggest that Peter escaped the dysfunctional triangle. Rather that he experienced it from a different side – one that might have been just as damaging. Neither of us emerged unscathed.
Any tips for those writing memoirs? Memory can be so individual, and hard to confirm one way or another.
I have lots of tips although I’m not sure any are particularly original: try not to settle scores; be as hard on yourself as you are on any of your characters, and remember that the events of your life are less important than your consciousness about them.
And what’s the latest on Wild Game coming to the screen?
I’m throwing salt over my shoulder as I answer this… Everything seems to be falling into place: I have a signed deal with Netflix with Chernin Entertainment producing, Nick Hornby writing the script, and Deniz Gamze Erguven slated to direct.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel, a family drama set on Cape Cod, loosely based on the Garden of Eden story – home, family, exile.
You work full-time as executive director of Aspen Words, take care of your children and elderly parents and you are working on a novel. How do you juggle all these demands? Do you sleep much?
I can’t deny that my life often feels like a juggling act, but here are a few things that make it manageable: 1) Although my job is demanding, I have wonderful colleagues and have always found literary work deeply fulfilling. 2) I think of my daily writing time as something I do for myself – the same way people make time for exercise or meditation. 3) And I have the best life partner anyone could ask for, always willing to step in and catch whatever balls have gone astray.
Your stepmother helped spur your lifelong interest in books. What were some of the books she gave you that helped you see your troubled life more clearly?
The very first stack of books my stepmother put in my hand included: Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Bean Tree”, and Jim Harrison’s “Dalva”, which only in hindsight, did I realise all featured spirited female protagonists in search of meaning.
What’s on your bookshelf now?
On my bedside table:
“My Autobiography of Carson McCullers” by Jenn Shapland “The Light We Give” by Simran Jeet Singh “What Could Be Saved” by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz “Mean Baby” by Selma Blair “The Trayvon Generation” by Elizabeth Alexander