Adrienne Brodeur has a literary background (she was an editor at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and a literary gene pool (her father wrote for the New Yorker; her mother was a travel and food writer), but what truly sets her apart is having a remarkable story and the courage and talent to hand it over. In Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, her memoir publishing with HMH in October, Brodeur comes of age, recounting how at 14, in 1980, her mother, Malabar, woke her at midnight to tell her of a forbidden kiss. It was the beginning of Brodeur’s enlistment as confidante and enabler for Malabar’s years-long affair with Ben, her husband’s best friend.
The tangled web of relationships went on into Brodeur’s adulthood (at 23, Brodeur married Ben’s son). Two couples, a Cape Cod summer cottage, large personalities, determined passion, dry “power pack martinis,” and a legendary jeweled necklace contributed to the all-consuming scenario; Brodeur was always on alert, making the affair possible. She accompanied Malabar and Ben on after-dinner walks, during which the two adults went off alone while Brodeur waited, and she covered at home when Malabar trysted with Ben in New York.
“I went from daughter to coconspirator and best friend,” Brodeur says. “It was magical and thrilling, hearing all these juicy tidbits. It was Thelma and Louise, and all I wanted to do was step on the gas pedal.” There was no question of divorce. Malabar and Ben loved their spouses and the four of them were all great friends.
Malabar, born in India, was an inventive chef who published cookbooks. Ben was a vigorous hunter and outdoorsman. The title of the memoir, Wild Game, was to be the title of a collaborative cookbook—a scheme to facilitate the affair—for which Malabar would create recipes and Ben would hunt for their ingredients.
The story is bound by food. In the memoir’s opening scene, Ben arrives with a dozen bloody squab, which Malabar is thrilled to prepare. Brodeur tells me that they once had roadkill for supper after Ben hit a squirrel with his car. The story is also tied to a heavily jeweled necklace that Brodeur’s philandering grandfather presented to her grandmother when they married for the second time. The necklace had mythic properties for Malabar: “Mom held it over my head, but she couldn’t part with it.”
Brodeur talked about the memoir at a breakfast at the HMH offices (wild game was served), and she brought along the necklace. She told of the winding path of both her life and the book. Brodeur left her first marriage after four years (“I was living an inauthentic life,” she says), moved east from California, cofounded the literary magazine Zoetrope with Francis Ford Coppola in 1995, became an editor at Houghton, and went to literary nonprofit Aspen Words in 2012, where she’s currently executive director.
Along the way, Brodeur wrote about “the affair” first in overwrought fiction and then with humor (she published a New York Times “Modern Love” column in 2012 about her ex-husband being her stepbrother), but it wasn’t until she remarried and started a family that, she says, “I finally felt I had a grip on the story.” She adds, “I was sent on the journey to write the book when I realized I did not want to mother the way my mother had mothered me.”
Brodeur had rented space for Aspen Words in the New York offices of the Book Group, a literary agency, and became friends with agent Brettne Bloom, who knew her from her time as an editor at HMH. “We rode the subway together,” Bloom says. “She told me she was working on a memoir and had recently figured it out. She gave me the draft and I thought it was incredible. And mother-daughter stories are my favorite. Adrienne had to forgive herself more than she had to forgive her mother.”
Bloom offered to represent Brodeur, who calls it “a marriage made in heaven.” The manuscript went out to 16–17 editors, Bloom remembers; “Fourteen were in the September 2017 auction when it hit seven figures,” she says. Lauren Wein, executive editor at HMH, bought North American rights. Wein came from Grove to HMH in 2011, when Brodeur was an editor there, and the two became friends.
“We were close for a long time before I knew about this story,” Wein says. “And even though I knew it when the proposal came in, I was bowled over. The book is very loving. Everyone in the house went mad for it.”
Wein says that she wanted to keep her professional distance. “I didn’t allow myself to hope, but when Adrienne told me she had decided to go with HMH and me, we both cried.”
Brodeur says it never occurred to her to publish with HMH. “I told Lauren, ‘I know how the sausage is made here,’ and she said, ‘Adrienne, the sausage is made everywhere.’ ”
Brodeur says that she spoke with many editors and says many were preoccupied with marketing. “The book is about my family,” she notes. “It wasn’t about the money. I wanted to do it right.”
The money may be secondary, but it’s notable. In addition to HMH’s seven figures for North American rights, there’s a substantial deal with Audible, which will release the audiobook simultaneously with the hardcover on October 15. Film rights were preempted by Chernin Entertainment for a reported six figures, and, to date, foreign rights sales have been made in five territories. This fall, Brodeur will tour nine cities in the U.S. and Canada.
“I did not want to write a Mommie Dearest,” Brodeur tells me. “My mother had a difficult life. She was an enormous narcissist, but she was charismatic, loving, and fun, and I was deeply attached to her.”
Malabar is widowed now and in her 80s. “She has dementia, but I’ve read passages of the book to her and she loves hearing it,” Brodeur says.
And what is to become of the necklace? “I don’t know. I’m thinking it should be with Malabar when she goes.”