The Good House

By Ann Leary

(St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

Best-selling author Ann Leary has a famous husband (comedian and actor Denis Leary), but she is not piggybacking on his success. She got good notices for her memoir, “An Innocent, A Broad,” and for her novel, “Outtakes From a Marriage,” and her latest, “The Good House,” is now a best-seller. Leary’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in magazines and literary publications, and she co-hosts the NPR show “Hash Hags.”  Apparently, she is not kept busy enough with things literary, as she is also into equestrian sports and is a volunteer EMT. The Learys have a farm in Connecticut, on which, her publicity material says, you will see “four dogs, three horses and an angry cat named Sneakers.”

What is this book about?

The main character is Hildy Good, who is a real estate broker on Boston’s North Shore, a mother and grandmother, a descendant  of a Salem “witch” and a not-consistently- recovering alcoholic — and also, perhaps, a psychic. Hildy is feeling lonely and begins an increasingly fraught friendship with Rebecca, who is very rich and new to town. As their lives grow entwined, old secrets, a new scandal and dark doings threaten Hildy – and enthrall the readers of “The Good House.”

Why you’ll like it:

This is a beach book, and I do not mean that as a criticism. With its engaging heroine, a setting that will be familiar to many New Englanders and a plot that grows ever-more complicated and fascinating, it is the kind of novel that will find its way into many beach cottages, lake cabins and other vacation destinations. Or you can just enjoy it at home.

To get a sense of Leary’s highly accessible style, here is an excerpt from the first chapter, as Hildy introduces herself:

“I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions. I remember joking about this one evening with Peter Newbold, the shrink who rents the office upstairs from mine…..

“…I like a house that looks lived in. General wear and tear is a healthy sign; a house that’s too antiseptic speaks as much to me of domestic discord as a house in complete disarray. Alcoholics, hoarders, binge eaters, addicts, sexual deviants, philanderers, depressives—you name it, I can see it all in the worn edges of their nests. You catch the smoky reek of stale scotch and cigarettes despite the desperate abundance of vanilla-scented candles. The animal stench oozes up between the floorboards, even though the cat lady and her minions were removed months before. The marital bedroom that’s become his, the cluttered guest room that’s now clearly hers—well, you get the idea.”

Tell us more, Hildy.

What others are saying:

The New York Times Book Review says: “ ‘The Good House’ has a plot packed with small-town intrigues: extramarital affairs, feuding mothers, a missing child and psychic powers that trace back to the Salem witch trials, to name a few. But the book’s real strength lies in its evocation of Hildy’s inner world…Leary writes with humor and insight, revealing both the pure pleasure of drinking and the lies and justifications of alcoholism, the warmth Hildy feels toward others when she drinks and the desperation that makes her put alcohol before the people she loves. The result is a layered and complex portrait of a woman struggling with addiction, in a town where no secret stays secret for long.”

Says Publishers Weekly: Hildy Good is a realtor in Wendover, the little Massachusetts town where she’s lived her entire life. Small town life inevitably brings small town gossip, and Hildy is no exception: “I know pretty much everything that happens in this town. One way or another, it gets back to me.” Suffering from alcoholism and marital problems, Hildy’s always in search of distractions. Emboldened by a self-professed ability to read people—bordering on what she considers ESP—Hildy finds the intrigue she’s been looking for when Boston hedge fund owner Brian McAllister and his wife, Rebecca, move to town. With her characteristic vigilance, Hildy soon uncovers a burgeoning affair between Rebecca and a local psychiatrist. As confidante, blackmailer, and real-estate broker to both Rebecca and Peter, the psychiatrist who rents the upstairs office, Hildy’s entanglements not only threaten the lives of others but also tease out her own problems and self-delusions. In this second novel …Leary creates a long-winded and melodramatic Peyton Place, but convincingly displays the corrosive and sometimes dire consequences of denial and overconfidence. “

“Ann Leary’s “The Good House” creates a one-of-a-kind character in Hildy Good, and gives us a raw, first-person glimpse into the mind of a middle-aged, outspoken wry New England realtor so real she might be someone you know…yet who also is hiding her alcoholism from her family, her town, and herself. By the end you’ll be flipping pages, trying desperately to piece together what happened as much as the narrator is doing herself,” says author Jodi Picoult.  

Library Journal says: “Hildy Good has lived in the same small town on Boston’s North Shore for all of her 60 years. She has a successful business selling real estate (though Sotheby’s is gaining on her), she married and had two children with her college sweetheart (they divorced when he admitted he was gay), and she likes to drink (her children forced her to go to rehab). After rehab, Hildy started sneaking the occasional drink alone until one of her wealthy clients—a transplant from the city—turns into a drinking buddy, and Hildy becomes privy to a secret she may not be able to keep. A romance with an unlikely suitor and the possibility of the biggest sale of her career lessen Hildy’s willpower. Then she must face the reality that her drinking may lead to her professional and personal ruin unless she confronts her addiction. VERDICT In Leary’s third book, the perils of addiction come to life. Sure to please fans of women’s fiction featuring women of a certain age such as the novels of Jeanne Ray and Elizabeth Berg.

“A supposedly recovering alcoholic real estate agent tells her not-exactly-trustworthy version of life in her small New England town in this tragicomic novel by Leary. …. At first, the novel seems to center on Hildy’s insights about her Wendover neighbors, particularly her recent client Rebecca McAllister, a high-strung young woman who has moved into a local mansion with her businessman husband and two adopted sons. …. Hildy is acerbically funny and insightful about her neighbors; many, like her, are from old families whose wealth has evaporated. She becomes Rebecca’s confidante about the affair Rebecca is having with Peter, whom Hildy helped baby-sit when he was a lonely child. She helps another family who needs to sell their house to afford schooling for their special needs child. She begins an affair with local handyman Frankie Getchell, with whom she had a torrid romance as a teenager. But Hildy, who has recently spent a stint in rehab and joined AA after an intervention by her grown daughters, is not quite the jolly eccentric she appears. There are those glasses of wine she drinks alone at night, those morning headaches and memory lapses that are increasing in frequency. As both Rebecca’s and Hildy’s lives spin out of control, the tone darkens until it
approaches tragedy. Throughout, Hildy is original, irresistibly likable and thoroughly untrustworthy. Despite getting a little preachy toward the end, Leary has largely achieved a genuinely funny novel about alcoholism,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

“The Good House” can be borrowed from the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Mark Twain Branch.

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