There are no heroes in Hanna Halperin’s debut novel “Something Wild.” But through reading the novel, one understands a little more deeply that simply moving through life can be a heroic task.
Published June 29, “Something Wild” is a portrait of a fractured family, brought together and torn apart by the insidiousness of domestic violence and intergenerational trauma.
Tanya Bloom, an assistant district attorney in Manhattan married to a Jewish physician, could not be much more different than her older sister Nessa, a receptionist at a psychiatrist’s office who is kind-of-dating her boss’s patient.
Despite having grown up feeling comfortable seeing each other naked, talking about boys and braving their parents’ divorce, their relationship as adults is, at times, tenuous. However, their connection with their mother, Lorraine, though sometimes complicated, is what ties them together everlastingly.
Their return to Arlington, Massachusetts, to assist their mother in moving to New Hampshire quickly snowballs into a mission to help her escape the manipulations of their abusive stepfather, Jesse.
Tanya and Nessa are faced with not only confronting Jesse, but also all that a return to their hometown has seemed to stir up: their parents’ divorce and respective second marriages; their encounter with the enigmatic Dan, whose presence seems to loom, no matter how long ago the sisters saw him; and their own relationship as siblings.
The novel oscillates between the points of view of the Bloom sisters and mother, and past and present mingle between liberal section breaks within each short chapter.
It’s easy to identify the lows in this book, moments of violence, grief, arguing, childhood trauma that have been repressed and hidden.
Finding the highs in “Something Wild” proves more demanding. Can they be found when Tanya and Nessa make up after a fight? In times of laughter used to distract from the pressure the sisters put on Lorraine to file a restraining order against her husband of 10 years?
In fact, the sisters’ victories take place between the lines of this story.
As Tanya reckons with her pregnancy, Nessa with her stunted career, the true joy of the characters in this novel comes from the choices the sisters don’t make, how they learn from the mistakes of their family.
But still, with triumph scarce and convoluted in “Something Wild,” it’s easy for one to feel trapped in witnessing the Bloom family’s turmoil. Tearing through the book, page after page, looking for moments of relief, which are hard to come by, the reader becomes sucked into what it’s like to try to protect someone from abuse: frustrating and helpless.
“Something Wild”’s greatest shortcoming is its heavy-handed exposition — the book is a little slow to start. Only a few dozen pages in, the reader is not smacked with the revelation that Lorraine Bloom is in an abusive relationship; rather, it’s mentioned in almost the same manner as the description of Lorraine’s job or where she lived. The presentation of this information so early on and without suspense is disappointing and feels flat.
Yet here, Halperin, who is Jewish and has worked as a domestic violence counselor, shows how adept she is in her understanding of abuse: so ubiquitous in today’s society that, despite how it ravages a family through generations, is unsurprising to the characters, and therefore, presented calmly to the audience.
In one scene, the Bloom sisters and their mother sit around a table at a beer and burger restaurant, dissenting about the menu options and bickering about what to order. Interspersed with dialogue about how everything on the menu is deep-fried, are arguments about how Lorraine is going to navigate her court hearing to finalize a restraining order and how she will find a new place to live without Jesse.
The crux of the novel lies in this one scene: dealing with trauma, for many women, is so common — so seemingly inevitable — that it becomes almost mundane.
It’s these mundane moments that are the most jarring to witness as a reader.
Through unfussy prose, “Something Wild” brings depth to a family that could hardly be considered special or unique.
This could be considered a feat on its own, but with its delicate depiction of domestic abuse, “Something Wild” becomes a truly harrowing story. l
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