Something Wild, by Hannah Halperin

Trigger warning for domestic violence.

Hannah Halperin’s novel, Something Wild, centers on need: the need to be wanted, loved, cared for, desire. So far, this isn’t an unusual premise for fiction. What is unusual is that Halperin looks at need through the perspective of how need pushes her main characters into making bad choices with men, to the point that one of them is being battered by a man she claims to love and who claims to love her. We watch Tanya, Nessa, and Lorraine in their relationships with each other and to the men in their lives, ranging from violent (Lorraine) to indifferent (Nessa), to possibly fulfilling (Tanya). We also see them reflect on their memories of each other, before terrible things pulled them apart. Because domestic violence plays such a large part of the book, I plan to tread lightly when I recommend it—but I do plan to recommend it.

When sisters Tanya and Nessa were younger, their father left their mother, Lorraine. After he left, Lorraine married Jesse. Nessa likes Jesse; Tanya very much does not. It doesn’t take long for us to figure out why. Jesse is controlling, jealous, and violent when angry. Lorraine stays with him because she needs to be with someone. The other men she dated before him were lackluster. They didn’t desire her the way Jesse does. Nessa—before she saw the evidence of Jesse’s violence—was as willing to excuse his worse behavior as Lorraine is. Shortly after Something Wild opens, Jesse attacks Lorraine and puts her in the hospital. Very shortly after that, Nessa and Tanya urge Lorraine to get a restraining order and leave Jesse.

Over the course of a weekend, all three women—spent in semi-hiding from Jesse—find themselves thinking very hard about how they all got to this point. For Nessa and Tanya, they think back to a very upsetting incident when they were young girls, one that sent them in different directions when it comes to what they can do in their relationships with men, and what satisfies them now in these relationships. For Lorraine, this means finding a way to balance all of the demands around her and her own need. Although she’s in an impossible position, Lorraine is the only one who isn’t tearing herself apart on the inside trying to decide if her needs and desires make her a terrible person.

Something Wild is unlike any other novel I’ve ever read about domestic violence. Although it includes some of the things you’d normally expect, it doesn’t tie things up in neat bows and answers. The novel goes deeper to try and understand three women’s reasons for being with the men they’re with instead of putting all of the focus on getting Lorraine out so that there can be an ultra-shiny happy ending. Even though this sounds terribly depressing, I was enthralled by this book. I marveled at its insight. I loved the emotional depth and originality of the story. For any reader willing to tackle a book with so much domestic violence, I highly recommend Something Wild.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

Notes for bibliotherapeutic use: While I wouldn’t recommend this book to survivors of domestic violence or people who have survivors in their lives, I would definitely recommend it to people who say they can’t understand why someone would stay with an abuser. It doesn’t provide a universal answer, of course, but it gives an amazing portrait of why one woman stays with the man who hurts her.

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