The Good House by Ann Leary
by Amy Pirt
First of all, let us all put on our English Lit student heads and analyse the title: much easier to do when I tell you that our protagonist is called Hildy Good.
For this is a novel about much more than Hildy Good: it is about what it means to be good. And how our habits become addictions (in this case, alcoholism), and how those addictions impact on not just our lives, but also other people’s.
Hildy Good is 60, slightly overweight, fond of skinny dipping and a damn good realtor (that’s estate agent in non-American English). She lives alone in the quaint New England town of Wendover, full of streets with names like Gingerbread Hill, and right on the Massachusetts coast. She has two grown up daughters, an adorable grandson named Grady, and a gay ex husband. She is also an alcoholic.
So far, so Desperate Housewives, yes? Not exactly. For what is so clever about The Good House is that, in a similar style to Maria Beaumont’s Motherland, our narrator is a distinctly unreliable one. Hildy spends almost the entire book attempting to convince us that she is not an alcoholic, when much of the time, we are unsure if we can believe what she is telling us. But because she is hugely likeable and admirable in many ways (independent, despite her loneliness, and a successful business woman), we are drawn into her view that a couple of glasses of wine is no big deal. And then, of course, it would be a waste not to finish the bottle, yes?
But there is so much more to this novel than alcoholism. There is old/new love in the form of Hildy’s old flame, rich but hobo-esque Frankie Getchell, and a friendship based on shared loneliness between Hildy and the also rich, but fragile, Rebecca McAllister. There is tragedy, too, and I won’t be giving too much away if I reveal that some of that tragedy is personified by Jake, a child with special needs, whose parents are desperate to move closer to a good school. However, I can certainly say that the novel ends on a hopeful note, even if happy endings are in short supply in Wendover.
All in all, then, despite a slow start, I enjoyed The Good House and look forward to the film adaptation. Many thanks to Alison at Atlantic for the review copy.
You can buy The Good House on eBook here. The trade paperback will be available in the UK in October.