Tuesday, February 19th, 2013
The book called The Good House by Ann Leary kept popping up on my Facebook feed. I read statuses such as “It’s so awesome!,” “Hildy’s alcoholism makes me feel better about myself,” “That was the most lovable and unreliable main character I’ve ever read.” My friends tend to be rabid readers with excellent taste, so I thought I’d better check it out. Also, it is creeping up the bestseller list.
I listened to The Good House on Audible in two days. (I’m so obsessed with Audible–that’s another story I’ll be writing soon). I highly recommend their version narrated by actress Mary Beth Hurt. However you ingest books, get your hands on this one fast.
Hildy Good does not drink, she tells you at the beginning of the book. Later she sneaks down to her mouse-infested basement to crack open a bottle of wine–just for a sip. She does not have a drinking problem, she insists, even though she’s just come back from rehab, and her grown daughters believe she’s doing great on the wagon. Hildy’s a 60-ish real estate broker in Wendover, Massachusetts. She’s quite sure that she’s the most successful business woman in town, and she loves her girls, her grandson and her dogs. Sometimes, just for fun, she reads people’s minds at get-togethers, but she insists it’s just a party trick. Meanwhile, Hildy is the descendant of a burned-at-the-stake Salem witch, and her aunt was a fortune teller. Oh, and by the way, her mother killed herself when Hildy was 12.
The story unfolds with her real estate business getting squeezed, her daughters being a little annoying and her loneliness building since her husband ran off with a man. Hildy knows everyone and everything in her lifelong hometown. Whether she has ESP or not, she says she can read people more accurately than shrinks just by taking a look inside their homes. Enter a new couple, Rebecca and Brian McAllister. Rebecca–bewitching herself–becomes fast friends with Hildy because they share secrets. Rebecca doesn’t mind if Hildy has a glass of wine, and Hildy know she’s carrying on with the psychiatrist who works from the office upstairs from the real estate agency. Enter Frank, the town fix-it man, who was Hildy’s first when they were teenagers. Blackmail, romance and partying ensue.
Author Ann Leary (more on her in a sec) doesn’t really need a good plot to carry off this hilarious and wry book because of the richness of the characters and the town. I found two aspects of her writing particularly captivating. First, it’s impossible not to relate to Hildy–she’s a mom, a wife, a lover, a snoop–with total abandon. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with a 60-year-old protagonist, but age in this book is irrelevant. Second, this is a manifesto on what alcoholism is really like. But it’s not like a waggy finger at all. Instead, it’s authentic and totally, completely funny. Anyone who’s ever had a drink will be enthralled with Hildy’s gritty choices. The wait-what-just-happened plot was the zinger in this book that kept me not pasted, but glued to it.
I didn’t read anything about The Good House until I finished the audio book. Then I found out that Ann Leary is comedian Dennis Leary’s wife, and she’s also written another work of fiction and a memoir. I’m glad I didn’t know that because celebrity-connected books turn me off (getting deals is easy for them). But don’t be fooled by the author’s link to the A-list. Ann Leary writes the pants clear off of this novel. I’m happy to report that she’s hard at work on her next one about a battle over a WASP-Y Connecticut family estate. I’m in. I’m hooked. Please Ann, create someone I love as much as Hildy Good.