By Leslie Lindsay
A troubling and searing debut from a talented writer about the traumas and darkness of a family, sisterhood, and cycles of violence–in all forms.
WRITERS INTERVIEWING WRITERS
ALWAYS WITH A BOOK
Leslie Lindsay & Hanna Halperin in Conversation
A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hanna Halperin‘s stories have been published in the Kenyon Review, n+1, New Ohio Review, Joyland, and others. She has taught fiction workshops at Grub Street in Boston and worked as a domestic violence counselor.
About SOMETHING WILD:
SOMETHING WILD (Viking, 6/22/21) by Hanna Halperin in one of those family dramas you can’t help but want to look, but dear God, don’t show the whole thing. SOMETHING WILD is visceral and challenging in scope and theme, covering such topics of domestic violence, secrets, jealousy, anger, repulsion, horrifying truths, slippery and elusive adolescent desires, and more. It’s a bit coming-of-age with a present-day story.
Told in alternating POVs, adult sisters, Nessa and Tanya leave their respective lives and travel to the Boston suburbs where they are to help their mother, Lorraine, pack up and move out of their childhood home. They discover, for the first time, that theirmother is ensnared in an abusive relationship with her own husband. As Tanya and Lorraine urge their mother to get help/a restraining order, more, the women try to reconcile their shared past. And just what is unveiled is a dark, sinister, complex evocation with a man, their own sexual desires, misunderstandings, and more.
A searing novel about the love and contradictions of sisterhood, the intoxicating desires of adolescence, and the traumas that trap mothers and daughters in cycles of violence.
Told in razor-sharp prose, but in form and function, these women are all very flawed and not exactly likable. SOMETHING WILD is a dark examination of one highly dysfunctional family, all of their iterations (blended family), and more.
SOMETHING WILD is about extremely enmeshed relationships–sisters, mothers and daughters, sisters with men, and husbands and wives. It’s dark and smart, combining elements of beauty with brutality, about grief and loss, but also redemption.
I struggled with some of the grittier aspects, particularly where it involved sex with underage individuals, likely because I am a mother of teen daughters who I could never imagine doing anything quite like what transpired between Nessa and Tanya.
Please join me in welcoming the lovely and talented Hanna Halperin to the author interview series:
Hanna, welcome! And congratulations on your debut. I am always curious to know what intrigued—what haunted—a writer into a particular story. What was it for you with SOMETHING WILD? Was it a theme, character, place, something that you wanted to explore?
Thank you so much for having me! The story began with Nessa and Tanya’s relationship as children. I was interested in how their relationship changes when they are teenagers, when sex and violence are introduced into their lives in ways they couldn’t have anticipated. This danger, and the way shame and blame affect these two sisters as girls, and later, as women—was something that I wanted to explore in a novel.
“In this emotionally astute debut, Hanna Halperin shows herself to be a writer who is as compassionate as she is unafraid of darkness and taboo. Something Wild is tender, fearless, and savagely alive.”
—Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists
These sisters, though not twins, are very connected. Maybe even unhealthily enmeshed. Can you talk a bit about their relationship? They almost have a sort of sixth-sense with one another, which you call the ‘wild thing.’ Can you talk about that, please?
‘The Wild Thing’ is this feeling that Tanya and Nessa have as kids, where they feel like they’re being preyed upon or chased. It’s kind of this bodily knowledge they both have, that danger is lurking. To me, this sixth-sense they share also has to do with protectiveness they have for one another—the way that girls and women instinctually know to show up for each other in moments of danger. This was something I was really curious about. When do we start to develop this sixth-sense and why? And how does it get further complicated when girls and women feel they are being pitted against one another?
The crux of SOMETHING WILD really has to do with violence, its overt form, but also as an insidious sort of growth, the fact that violence can take on all sorts of shapes. There’s emotional and psychological violence and trauma, in fact, the whole story sort of read as if it were the color of a bruise. What more might you add?
Right. And wherever there is physical violence, there is also emotional violence. In the novel there is also financial control, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, gaslighting and neglect. In my mind there is no hierarchy of abuse. Emotional abuse can have lasting and devastating impacts—although perhaps this kind of abuse is harder to see. How many times have women been called a name or experienced some sort of cruel or misogynistic comment and then been told, “Oh, it was just a joke.” It’s interesting that you associate the story with the color of a bruise; I can see that. When I saw the cover of the book for the first time, it made sense to me that it was red. It makes me think about what kind of blood we’re comfortable seeing and talking about, too. There’s a lot of blood and gore we acknowledge, and a lot of violence we pretend not to see.
I’m also intrigued with houses and homes and this concept of ‘going back home.’ Do you believe we can ever truly go back to those earlier times? Do we want to? And why?
I don’t think we can ever really go back. I think there can be this strange dissonance of wanting to ‘go back’, even if we know that things weren’t actually as simple or happy as we remember them. When we are kids however we grew up was just ‘the norm’ to us. It might not be until much later that we question or process how things actually felt. This desire to go home is not just about returning to a place, but also wanting that innocence back. Despite having many of the ‘same’ memories, I think Tanya and Nessa have very different memories of childhood, as well as different tolerance levels for nostalgia.
Here’s what SOMETHING WILD did for me: it dredged up memories of insidious trauma. Weird little things that I hadn’t really paid much mind to, but now began looking at through a different lens. Was that your intention? Or maybe just a fun by-product?
I can’t imagine that it was especially fun, but it means a lot to me that reading the book had that effect for you. I’m really interested in those everyday, insidious traumas. There is a lot of very stark trauma in the book—but I find the seemingly smaller things just as worthy of attention: overhearing a parent say something cruel, waiting for a text in the middle of the night that never shows up, seeing a parent with a new partner. Sometimes those moments are the ones that unexpectedly really hurt, that crack us wide open—whether we acknowledge it at the time or not.
Hanna, this has been so insightful. Thank you. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten? Or perhaps something you might like to ask me?
I so appreciate you reading Something Wild and your thoughtful questions. Are there any books about girlhood or being a teenage girl that you would recommend?
I really enjoyed Daisy Johnson’s SISTERS, which sounds pretty explanatory, but it’s about a twisted and shattered portrait of two highly enmeshed sisters, their depressed author-illustrator mother, a terrible accident, all set on a moody English coast. And houses, because, houses.
For more information, to connect with Hanna Halperin, or to purchase a copy of SOMETHING WILD, please visit:
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YOU MIGHT LIKE:
SOMETHING WILD reminded me a bit of SISTERS by Daisy Johnson with a touch of THE IMMORTALISTS (teenager stuff only) but also DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little with a touch of HERE LIES A FATHER (Mackenzie Cassidy), MY DARK VANESSA (Kate Elizabeth Reid).Next week, Catherine Raven talks about her unusual relationship with a fox, nature, and more in FOX AND I.
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Learn more about Leslie Lindsay|Always with a Book
Up Next Week:
About the Author:
Hanna Halperin is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her stories have been published in the Kenyon Review, n+1, New Ohio Review, Joyland, and others. She has taught fiction workshops at Grub Street in Boston and worked as a domestic violence counselor.
ABOUT YOUR HOST:
Leslie Lindsay is the creator and host of the award-winning author interview series,“Always with a Book.” Since 2013, Leslie, named “one of the most influential book reviewers” by Jane Friedman, ranks in the top 1% of all GoodReads reviewers and has conducted over 700 warm, inquisitive conversations with authors as wide-ranging as Robert Kolker and Shari Lapena to Helen Phillips and Mary Beth Keane, making her website a go-to for book lovers world-wide. Her writing & photography have appeared in various print journals and online.
She is the award-winning author of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A Parents’ Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, soon to become an audiobook from Penguin Random House. A former psychiatric R.N. at the Mayo Clinic, Leslie’s memoir, MODEL HOME: Motherhood, Madness, & Memory, is currently on submission with Catalyst Literary Management. Leslie resides in the Chicago area with her family.
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Cover and author image courtesy of Viking/PenguinRandomHouse and used with permission. Artistic images of book cover(s) designed and photographed by L.Lindsay, @leslielindsay1. Join on Instagram