As Brodeur leaves for college, Malabar warns her: “Don’t ever forget that you and I are two halves of one whole.” Wild Game, in other words, is a story of child abuse, though it’s marketed (down to the Lolita-ish image of a halter-topped pubescent girl on its cover) as a tale of wayward romance, and the complex “nature of family”. Make no mistake: it’s infinitely darker than that, though the darkness is tamped down under a polished veneer. The Cordon Bleu recipes and the cocktail rituals of Malabar’s moneyed East Coast set belie a world marked by casual violence and grotesque consumption – of food, of alcohol and of people.
Wild Game is a memoir that reads like a novel. Brodeur’s writing is elegant — she is particularly good at describing the sights, sounds and smells of Cape Cod, with its sand dunes and fishing boats, and its perpetual harvest of clams and lobsters. I was strongly reminded of LP Hartley’s classic novel The Go-Between; both explore the feelings of a child caught in the complicated mesh of an adult love affair.
All this is fascinating – at times, gruesomely so. I found myself quite mesmerised by Malabar; like some desperate old actress, she’s permanently ready for her closeup.
But Brodeur’s memoir is somehow a lot less gripping than it should be. Why? At first, I thought this was down to her writing. Combine her travel writerly descriptions of Cape Cod with her lusciously precise accounts of her mother’s cooking – “Malabar lowered the artfully arranged pre-dinner offerings: paper-thin slices of ruby-red venison carpaccio, a bowl of wrinkled and briny olives, and a dish of her ethereally smooth venison paté” – and what you have is memoir as it might appear in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop: varnished rather than visceral, more complacent than searching. “I learned to become a friend to myself,” she writes at one point, which, quite apart from being a cliche of self-help, seemed to me to be not much of a weapon in the war for independence from her mother.