Something Wild

Something Wild

by Hanna Halperin

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Overview

Notes From Your Bookseller

A heartbreaking debut about intimate partner violence, how trauma is passed from generation to generation, the relationships between mothers and daughters and, ultimately, how two sisters come together as they move toward healing. An honest, unflinching read from beginning to end.

"This wise, brilliant novel is so special, so overflowing with honesty and love—about motherhood, sisterhood, what it’s like to be a woman—that every paragraph feels like an epiphany. Hanna Halperin knows the fierce love that can exist especially among broken things. Something Wild moved me deeply."
—Glennon Doyle, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Untamed

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


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. For the first time since they were teenagers sharing a bunk bed over a decade ago, they find themselves in the place where long-kept secrets were born, where jealousy, comfort, anger, forgiveness, and repulsion coexist with the fiercest love and loyalty. What they don't expect is for their visit to expose a new, horrifying truth: their mother, Lorraine, is in a violent relationship.

As Tanya urges Lorraine to get a restraining order, Nessa struggles to reconcile her fondness for their stepfather with his capacity for brutality. Their differing responses to the abuse bring up the sisters' shared secret—a traumatic, unspoken experience from their adolescence has shaped their lives, their sense of selves, and their relationship with each other and the men in their life. In the midst of this family crisis, they have no choice but to reckon with the past and face each other in the present, in the hope that there's a way out of the violence so deeply ingrained in the Bloom family.

Told in alternating perspectives that deftly interweave past and present, Something Wild is a magnetic, unflinching portrait of the bond between sisters, as well as a psychologically acute exploration of the legacy of divorce, the ways trauma reverberates over generations, and how it might be possible to overcome the past.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781984882066
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/29/2021
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 545
Product dimensions: 8.90(w) x 6.10(h) x 1.10(d)

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.

Read an Excerpt

I.

Frankly, Tanya Bloom doesn't have time to drive up to Massachusetts and clean out her childhood house. She has dozens of cases to work on and though she'll bring her computer, the chance of getting anything done is slim. Moving her mother out of 12 Winter Street is a daunting job, and Nessa will be no help. Really, it would be easier to send her mother and her sister off into Boston for the day, so Tanya could do it herself, go through the house with industrial-sized trash bags, throw the majority of everything away. Her mother has a hard time saying goodbye to almost anything.

The move makes no sense. The so-called property in New Hampshire that her stepfather, Jesse, recently inherited is nothing more than a dusty patch of rubble. The house itself is so bleak and dated Tanya could barely scroll through all six photos on her phone before calling her mother to talk her out of it.

"Jesse's going to fix it up. We have big plans for it!" Lorraine kept repeating in such a psychotically cheerful voice that Tanya realized Jesse must have been sitting right there beside her mother. The conversation hadn't lasted more than three minutes.

Tanya is taking two personal days off from work to make the trip-Thursday and Friday, the first personal days she's taken since starting her job as ADA in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, one year ago.

"What will you do without me this weekend?" Tanya asks Eitan, her husband, that morning. "You should take Will out," she says. "Help him meet somebody new." It's six thirty, the latest they've both stayed in bed together for a long time-months, at least. On any other Thursday, Tanya would've already been coming home from the gym by this time, ready to jump in the shower and begin the mad dash of getting dressed in order to get to the Seventy-Ninth Street subway stop no later than 7:50 a.m.

Eitan makes a face. "It's too soon," he says. "Besides, Will's too soft for New York women."

"His ex was from New York." Tanya rolls over on her side and looks at Eitan. She likes him best this way: before he's showered or shaved or brushed his teeth, blurred around the edges with sleep. No one else in the world gets to see him like this.

"Even so, he needs someone kind," Eitan says. "Maybe someone from the Midwest."

"Do we know any kind people?"

"Not really," Eitan says, smiling. He reaches for her hand. "Hey, what about your sister?"

"I think she's seeing some deadbeat she met at work. And, there's no way I'd let you set Will up with Nessa."

"Why not?"

"He's too nice for her. Or maybe she's too nice for him." Though nice isn't exactly the word Tanya's looking for.

"What's wrong with that?" Eitan asks.

"Two really nice people can't be together. They'd get bored. There'd be no tension."

"So I take it I'm the nice one in our relationship?"

"Of course you are. You're one big giant pushover." Tanya pats his stomach.

Her phone vibrates on the nightstand and Tanya leans over Eitan to check. It's a text message from Nessa.

Fuck I think I have a UTI

An ellipsis appears and several more texts follow in quick succession.

Is it normal to pee 7 times in 1 hour???

My vagina feels like it's going to fall off

Not normal, she texts back. Do you want Eitan to write you a rx?

Yes please!! Nessa responds.

K, Tanya writes. Hydrate

Tanya puts the phone down. "Nessa needs you to write her a prescription for antibiotics. She has a urinary tract infection."

"She should really get a urine sample before-"

"Eitan, a woman knows when she has a UTI."

"It's so that she can be prescribed the correct type of antibiotics."

"Write what you usually write," Tanya says. "Don't be annoying about it."

"Fine." Eitan pulls Tanya's hand to his mouth and kisses it. "So," he says. "You're really not going to tell them. Not even Nessa?"

Tanya shakes her head.

"You don't think they'll be able to tell?"

"No," she says flatly. The only person who knows Tanya's body well enough to notice anything different is Eitan. She'll start showing soon, though, according to the books and to her doctor, and the thought terrifies her.

Tanya met Eitan three years prior while she was in her second year at Columbia Law and he was in his third year of medical school at Mount Sinai. She'd been taken with Eitan Abrams right away. He was gentle and solemn. He was Jewish, like her father, his Semitic features handsome and familiar. She liked his eyes, long lashed and heavy lidded, the color of green Kalamata olives; sharp. There was something noble about his nose.

They hadn't been trying to get pregnant. They were both twenty-eight, practically a decade too young to have a baby these days, in Tanya's opinion. Their lives were full and busy and satisfying; they didn't need a child on top of everything else.

But then last month her period was late, and on a whim she bought a pregnancy test from Duane Reade during her lunch break. She wasn't expecting anything. In fact, the impulse to buy a test had surprised her. She normally didn't get nervous about these things; she was always careful and she didn't have a lot of sex, anyway. She chugged a water bottle, took the test into a single-person bathroom in Starbucks. Double pink lines appeared promptly in the window. Her first thought had been: Will I have to miss work to get an abortion? Her second: There's a person-half me, half Eitan-in my uterus right now at this very moment.

That evening on her commute home, packed onto the 1 train with barely enough room to breathe, Tanya glanced at the seats closest to the doors, the ones reserved for the elderly, the handicapped, the pregnant. Something akin to anger passed through her. She didn't want special treatment. She didn't want to be expected to sit. She'd have an abortion, she decided; no question.

When she arrived home half an hour later, the hallway of their building smelled like garlic cooking on the stove. It was Eitan, making dinner. He would want it, she knew. Fucking Eitan would want it more than anything.

He'd broken away from his Orthodox upbringing years ago-he was no longer a religious man. He was not moralistic, and he was certainly not pro-life. But he was a family man. It was something about him that Tanya knew she was supposed to covet.

He'd been raised Modern Orthodox, the youngest, and only boy, in a family of five kids, and even as a child he'd been aware of the sect's hypocrisies. In shul, while he and his father prayed downstairs with the other men, his four older sisters and mother sat in the balcony, where it was hot and crowded; where in the summertime, the fans were so loud that the women could barely hear what the rabbi was saying downstairs.

Really it was his anger toward his parents, much more than any archaic rule or ritual, that led Eitan away from Orthodoxy. Still, though, Tanya sometimes saw flashes of traditionalism in her husband. They'd be walking down the street and pass a family and Eitan would smile approvingly in their direction-and Tanya could feel herself tense up. And not just any family; it was the big, conventional families that Eitan liked. A mother and a father, a gaggle of kids, all those genes mixed up and shaken out into different yet related forms. It annoyed her, the way his face brightened at the sight of a young couple pushing an infant in its carriage, or a father carrying a child on his shoulders, his pregnant wife dutifully by his side.

Eitan insisted this wasn't the case, but she knew that he didn't just want babies with her-he wanted Jewish babies.

When Tanya was young, her own family had done the Jewish thing, too. Hebrew school, lighting the menorah, going to services on the High Holidays. But when her father left her mother, most of that ended. Her mother was technically Catholic-although Lorraine hadn't set foot inside a church since she was a girl-but without Jonathan around, they all gave up on being Jewish. There was no longer a point.

"What are you making?" she'd called, stepping inside the apartment, gearing up to tell him about the test.

"The eggplant thing," Eitan called back from the kitchen.

Tanya set down her purse and laptop and found Eitan in the kitchen. They kissed quickly. "How was your day?" Eitan asked, returning to the stove.

She stepped out of her heels. "Interesting."

"How'd the meeting go?"

"Not bad. But I'll tell you about it later." She took a glass from the drying rack and filled it with water. She was visibly shaking. "It was interesting for another reason."

"Yeah?" Eitan adjusted the heat on the burner and prodded at the simmering eggplant. "What's that?"

"I'm pregnant."

She hadn't planned for it to come out like that-so blunt, so un-prefaced. She didn't even know how she felt, saying it out loud.

Eitan whirled around. He looked almost comical, his eyes taking up half his face. "You're kidding me, right?"

"Does that seem like the kind of joke I would make?"

"You're pregnant?"

"According to the First Response test I bought at Duane Reade."

Then Eitan smiled so huge that Tanya actually groaned. She was surprised, though, to find that she was holding back tears.

He threw down the spatula and practically lunged at her. "Holy shit!"

"That's what I said," she laughed, hugging him back.

"Oh, Tanya." He squeezed her then, so tight that she yelped: "Eitan, you're going to kill it."

Eitan, naturally, began to cry.

"Babe, the eggplant," Tanya said
.

"Who cares about the eggplant?"

She knew then that there would be no abortion. There would be a baby. There already was one.

There were several reasons why Tanya was not going to tell her mother and sister that she was pregnant. She would tell them eventually, of course. She had no choice. But her plan was to put it off as long as physically possible.

Tanya did not enjoy attention, particularly when it came to her body. Well, that was not entirely accurate. She liked attention, though only at certain times and by certain people-namely Eitan, though sometimes she liked the feeling of being admired by other men, and even other women, as long as it was from a distance, and they were subtle and not crude about it; and only if they themselves were attractive, too, in some way.

But she was wary about showing. She saw the way people behaved around pregnant women. Suddenly their stomachs were open for public gawking and the inner workings of their bodies fair game for questioning: Are you nauseous? Do you have cravings? Is this your first? Will you have more?

When Tanya was younger, she'd shared a physical closeness with her sister and mother that was comfortable and natural, and now difficult for her to imagine. There'd been a time when it was easy to be naked around one another. They went skinny-dipping; they hung out together in the bathroom while one of them showered. They used the toilet without closing the bathroom door. When Tanya got her period at age thirteen, Nessa had done a live demonstration of how to insert a tampon. And when Nessa decided one day that she was going to shave off all her pubic hair "just to see what it looked like," she had shown Tanya immediately. They'd laughed and named it the Naked Mole Rat.

Things had changed, though-with their bodies and with each other. Certain details about herself that at one time seemed harmless-underarm hair, pubic hair, those mysterious little bumps around her areolae-she now kept private. To Tanya, these things screamed of sex.

Her mother and sister had a habit of staring-at themselves, at each other, at her. What are you looking at? she found herself wanting to yell sometimes, when they were looking too hard. But she never did because when it came down to it, she didn't want to know the answer.

Nessa Bloom doesn't believe in God, but when she gets a UTI this severe, sometimes she feels as if she's being punished for something, by someone. Sitting on a bus for four hours isn't going to help. She would have preferred to drive to Arlington, but Henry persuaded her to lend him her car for the weekend.

"Marvelous day," her seatmate announces, seemingly to Nessa. Nessa glances over. The woman's face is wide, dappled with age spots, purplish lipstick gathered at the corners of her smile. She smells of clothing that's been sitting in a closet for many years.

"It is," Nessa agrees. She smiles back, which takes effort, considering the pain she's in.

"Summer is just around the corner." The woman shifts in her seat to face Nessa head-on. "Let's hope the air-conditioning works properly."

"Right," Nessa says. She has to be careful with women like this, lonely women, hungry for conversation and connection. She has a way of attracting them.

"The last time I was on one of these Peter Pan buses, the air-conditioning broke halfway to Boston."

"Oh no."

"It wasn't too terrible because the day was cool to begin with. But on a day like this? We'd melt into our seats." The woman mimics melting by throwing her arms and head back dramatically. Then she chuckles.

"Are you going home or leaving home?" she asks, and when Nessa opens her mouth to respond, she realizes she doesn't know how to answer.

Minutes later the bus pulls out of the depot and starts its journey down Elm Street before merging onto the Mass Pike toward Boston. Nessa gets that familiar rush in her stomach. It's not a purely bad sensation, exactly-the Wild Thing-but it's unsettling, and paired with the UTI, it produces a feeling of intense homesickness in Nessa.

Nessa goes home more frequently than Tanya. It's not often that they go back to Arlington together, to the house they grew up in, and this will be the last time they ever do. Nessa crosses her legs together and squeezes.

She glances behind her at the awful little restroom at the back of the bus; wonders how long she'll be able to hold out before going back there. The woman next to her will probably get suspicious after Nessa's third or so trip. She'll think it's drugs, or maybe just diarrhea. At the very least, Nessa is grateful not to be sitting next to a cute guy, or any guy at all.

Reading Group Guide

1. Violence against women is everywhere—in dating and hook-up culture, in the media, in politics, even in the very systems that aim to protect women and girls. How is violence depicted in Something Wild? When is abuse most blatant and when is it more subtle and insidious?

2. What comes to mind for you when you think of Jesse? What about Dan? Henry? How do you interpret the Bloom women’s attraction to them? Do you think it’s worth trying to understand these men as complicated, damaged characters, or do you think they are sick and irredeemable?

3. Nessa and Tanya have different feelings about God, goodness, and repentance. While Tanya has little patience for spirituality and reflection, Nessa often feels like she’s being punished by God. How do the sisters’ respective relationships with religion and fate differ? What do you think drives each one’s belief?

4. What do you think leads the Bloom sisters to ultimately go to Dan’s house that night in 2003? Were you surprised to learn what happened there? Did it change how you see either sister or how you relate to them?

5. How do you think the experience at Dan’s affected Nessa and Tanya’s feelings about each other, as well as toward their mother? How do you think the shame of this incident impacts the sisters’ future romantic relationships?

6. Are there aspects of the Bloom family that are familiar to you or remind you of your own family?

7. The characters in the novel have strikingly different relationships with the court system and the law. Tanya has embraced its rigidity, while Lorraine has run from it, afraid of the harsh effect of its consequences on her life. What do you think has informed their varying perspectives? Did the incidents in the novel affect how you see the court’s efficacy in regard to protecting women and prosecuting domestic violence in America?

8. Discuss Nessa and Tanya’s relationships with their parents’ spouses. Do you think class plays a role in how they see their respective partners? How do you think class affected Lorraine and Jonathan’s marriage, and to what extent does money give people power over others in the novel?

9. Why do you think Nessa confronts Dan all these years later? What do you think she hopes to get out of it, and how do you think it changes her?

10. Why do you think that Nessa is sentimental and nostalgic, while Tanya “looks forward with a vengeance, and never back”? How do you think their pasts have shaped these perspectives, and do you think they change in this regard—either independently or in relation to each other—throughout the novel?

11. Discuss the different kinds of mothers in the novel. How does Simone differ from Lorraine? When Tanya thinks about her baby, “really what she wants to be is a mother who isn’t in pain. She wonders if such a woman exists.” How much of your pain do you think children should see? What kind of mother do you think Tanya will be?




If you are concerned about your relationship or a friend's relationship, there are free and confidential resources to help, including The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233. Available 24/7/365.

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