Book Club

6 takeaways from Book Club’s author talk with Adrienne Brodeur

"The cliche is you're flying the plane while you're building it, and nothing could be truer."

Adrienne Brodeur knows a lot about processing family strife through writing. Her best-selling memoir, “Wild Game,” is about her relationship with her mother, whose affair she helped hide from her stepfather. Now she’s back with another family drama, this time fictional and infused with biblical symbolism. 

The new novel, “Little Monsters,” is the story of the Gardner family. Siblings Ken and Abbey were raised by their brilliant oceanographer father, Adam, in a remote part of Cape Cod. The siblings have a fraught relationship with one another and fight for the affection of their father. Set during the summer before the 2016 election, family tensions flare as Adam falls deeper into his work and a new arrival brings secrets to light. 

In writing a family drama, Brodeur knew that she wanted her characters to blur the lines between hero and villain. 


“I’m really interested in the gray area of people, which is certainly the place I occupy in the world. We’re all trying to be better — we have our flaws, and we say terrible things to people we love. Adam does this, Ken does this, Abby does,” the author said at a recent Book Club event. recently hosted Brodeur for a book discussion with Caitlin Doggart-Bernal, the co-owner of Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore and Children’s Annex in Chatham. The two discussed the biblical and mythological inspirations behind the novel, why the Cape makes the perfect setting, what it’s like to write fiction instead of memoir, and more. 

Read on for takeaways from their discussion or watch the video below and sign up for more Book Club updates.

Brodeur couldn’t think of a better place to set the novel than Cape Cod.

Cape Cod has had a special place in Brodeur’s heart since childhood. The author moved around a lot after her parents’ divorce, but returning to the Cape was her sense of consistency. When it came time to write this novel, the Cape felt like the perfect setting because of the fragility of its “rich natural environment” and its complicated socio-economic dynamics — two themes that feature heavily in the book. 


“One of the things that was so compelling…about setting ‘Little Monsters’ on Cape Cod was, [in the novel], there’s this looming family implosion in this bigger looming cultural implosion. And then there’s this possibility of this fragile landscape that might not always be there,” she said.

In another life, Brodeur might be studying humpback whales.

In the novel, family patriarch, Adam, is a research scientist for the Cape Cod Institute of Oceanography where he studies humpback whales. This character detail came from Brodeur’s own fascination with whales. She fell in love with the marine mammals during summers on the Cape and has spent time whale watching at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to her personal knowledge, she did a lot of research to write the book. 

“I read with great delight lots of books and information about whales…I wanted to shoehorn every single whale fact I have in the book, and yet I had to pick my favorites,” the author shared. “I feel like that’s just indicative of the type of research you do with fiction. Since fiction is all about compression and distillation, you have to know so much more in order to just drop the little bits in that make it a very believable world.

The novel is set during the 2016 presidential race.

While Brodeur didn’t start writing “Little Monsters” until 2020, the story takes place in the summer before the 2016 election. Part of the tension in the book is the differing political beliefs of the Gardner family, a decision Brodeur made to reflect the unease of the time. She considers the tension of 2016 “a nice place to set fiction.”


“While existing on the Cape in 2016, you just felt the landscape shifting,” she said. “I think we felt that throughout the country, and possibly the world. It was very clear that we were in uncertain times and there was kind of a collective anxiety during that period.”

The story is filled with biblical and mythological references.

Part of the inspiration for the novel is the story of Cain and Abel. The main characters Ken and Abby, and their father Adam, are named after the biblical characters and their strained relationship serves as a subtle backdrop for the story’s plot. Other elements of the story, like their pet turtle Chiron, are inspired by Greek mythology and hint at the symbolism of those stories as well.

“I found myself…noodling around or alighting on the idea around siblings and why it’s a relationship that can be so complicated, so fraught, so loving,” she said. “I thought I should turn to the original sibling story of all times, which of course is Cain and Abel.”

Writing an accurate storyline about bipolar disorder took a lot of research.

The Adam character is a high-functioning person with bipolar disorder who decides to lean into a manic episode in the hopes of making a scientific breakthrough. 

“Not to say that we’re all the same because I do feel like there are certain people with incredibly serious mental health issues that are very different, but I also think on some level, we are all on the spectrum of having moments of grandiosity, having moments of depression, having moments of these swings,” she said. 


Brodeur has several family members with mental illness and had a formative experience with a woman managing her own bipolar disorder. While she has personal experience, she had to do a lot of additional research. She turned to friends who are therapists and psychiatrists, who gave her access to case studies and research on the mood disorder.

Writing nonfiction and fiction requires different skill sets.

As a former editor, Brodeur thinks a lot about the structure of a story, no matter the genre. She said she found the process of writing a novel to be very different from a memoir. When writing her memoir, Brodeur already knew the characters, setting, and storylines. She described the process as “carving out of the marvel of your life,” whereas, a work of fiction requires more building blocks. 

“It’s far more mysterious because it’s just having faith in this creative process,” the author said. “The cliche is you’re flying the plane while you’re building it, and nothing could be truer.”

Ahead of our Book Club event, Brodeur joined Globe Today to discuss “Little Monsters.” Watch her interview and sign up for future Book Club updates below.