One weekend, sisters Tanya and Nessa Bloom pause their respective adult lives and travel to the Boston suburbs to help their mother pack up and move out of their childhood home. What they don't expect is for their visit to expose a new, horrifying truth: their mother, Lorraine, is in a violent relationship.
The extraordinary commonness of female trauma, especially at the hands of men, can work against a piece of fiction, but in the case of Hanna Halperin’s debut novel, Something Wild, it does the opposite. Some version of the story Halperin tells will likely feel familiar in a way that reminds you of pressing on an old bruise you were sure had healed. Something Wild is propulsive, tender, frustrating and entirely realistic. That’s what hurts so much ... creates a compelling, believable and upsetting portrayal of how trauma ripples through a family ... It’s a rare story where you’re somehow rooting for everyone...the book is an impressive hat trick, pulling empathy from you for so many people in one story. There are a few side plots that add little to the novel, but the core of the book is still blistering ... did something that a book hasn’t done for me in a very long time — it made me weep. Not just a few tears, but big, ugly tears, embarrassing ones, the kind you’d prefer to hide in the middle of the dark, the novel wrapping me in grief and fear and fury. The familiarity of the narrative gets caught in your throat; the clarity with which these women love one another clears it. Men fail their children and wives, the court system fails them again, and it’s the mothers and sisters who pull themselves back together again. Something Wild can err on the side of predictability, sure, but domestic violence is pretty predictable too ... I wish Something Wild felt foreign, I wish the plot were pure fantasy. But good books sometimes cut to the bone, and this one feels like a scythe.
Halperin is well versed in the psychology of domestic abuse victims, which brings a tense, visceral realism to Lorraine’s tragic story ... Halperin doesn’t shy away from the gritty details, and Something Wild is unique in that it’s not a psychological thriller or a family drama that veers into sentimentality, but rather an unflinching character study of women facing the devastating effects of trauma and violence.
If Something Wild paints a bleak picture of society, maybe that’s because Halperin has worked as a domestic-violence counselor ... Nessa and Tanya mistake sex, sexual desire and sexuality for anger, violence and the misuse of power, because that’s what they’ve seen in their mother’s life post-divorce, at a time when they, as young teens, are vulnerable to misreading adult interactions. What’s different about Something Wild isn’t necessarily that insight, but the care with which it’s developed. Rarely has an author taken the time and demonstrated such honesty with the complexity of girls’ desire and how they act on it, how it can sour the sweetest relationship ... At a time when many novels rely on intricate plots or eccentric narrative voices, Something Wild eschews literary pyrotechnics and relies instead on the power of truth. We may not like what we see, but we know we’re being given an opportunity to change the way we look at sexual dynamics.