Something Wild by Hanna Halperin is a dark novel about two sisters who go to help their mother move out of their childhood home and discover that she is in an abusive relationship with her husband. Their attempts to extricate her from the relationship force them to relive complicated and painful memories from their adolescence that shaped them into who they became as adults.
Why I picked it up: I read Halperin’s second novel, I Could Live Here Forever (reviewed here), earlier this year and really liked it. I wanted to check this one out too.
Tanya and Nessa have lived far from their mother Lorraine’s Arlington, MA apartment for many years, but they come home when she is forced to sell the house to move with her husband Jesse to a home in New Hampshire. The mother they encounter when they come home is not who they are used to: she is messy, unconvincingly positive, wearing braces and seems anxious. During their visit, Lorraine and Jesse have a violent encounter that finally exposes the abuse in their relationship. As the girls try to protect their mother from Jesse, they also must confront the fault lines in their own relationship and the ways in which their experiences with sex as teenagers led to unhealthy patterns in their adult interactions with men.
Something Wild is a sad and difficult book. There’s a loneliness that pervades the whole thing, as well as a sense of hopelessness, as secrets start to come to light. Halperin is expert at creating realistic, if uncomfortable, relationship dynamics among imperfect people, and she does a good job here of depicting domestic abuse, how it can be hard to detect, and the reasons why people stay. It wasn’t necessarily an enjoyable read, but it was a memorable and important one.
Something Wild was the 40th book of 2023.