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Book Review: ‘The Good House’ by Ann Leary

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Hildy Good is a real estate agent in a historic and upscale town on the north shore of Boston. Sixty-ish, divorced, and with grown daughters, she was the most successful agent in town until recently, when the big, tony firms like Sotheby’s started taking some of the best out-of-town customers.

Hildy is a native (and a descendent of a Salem witch), and she counts on her local connections and knowledge to maintain her business. She is intuitive and even has a touch of witchcraft about her. She does “readings,” which she readily admits is a parlor trick, but which also requires keen attention to people.

Her business was going fine until her daughters staged an intervention for her — Hildy likes to drink, a lot. She grudgingly went to rehab even though she believed herself not to have a problem and even quit drinking, for a while. As the book opens, Hildy explains how she is careful now only to drink in private, which makes attending social events much more of a pain these days. She misses being with people and  is lonely.

Hildy finds a friend in newcomer Rebecca McCallister, wife of a wealthy Boston entrepreneur and mother of two adopted boys. Rebecca feels isolated in her new home and manages to alienate the mothers at the local beach, so Hildy’s friendship is most welcome. When Rebecca becomes obsessed with a married local man, however, Hildy’s loyalties and instincts, as well as her sense of herself, are tested.

The Good House is a fabulous read. Author Ann Leary’s prose is accessible and vivid. Her depiction of life in an upscale Massachusetts town on the water, peopled with nouveau riche and townies, rings true. Hildy spans the two cultures, selling to and moving among the newcomers but also knowing and loving the locals, being one herself. Leary’s affectionate depiction makes you feel like a local yourself.

Hildy’s journey as an alcoholic follows what I imagine to be a true course: a feeling of ill ease that only alcohol erases, years of rationalizing and denial, and a slow dawning that maybe she really does have a problem. With her keen eye and an acerbic wit, Hildy is far from unlikable, and you can’t help rooting for her.

Leary throws in many astute observations, from lovely passages about Rebecca’s way with horses to what real estate agents can tell about people from the state of their homes, that add depth and richness to The Good House. I highly recommend a visit.

Note: The Good House is Ann Leary’s second novel and third book. She is married to actor and comedian Dennis Leary. Her inspiration for this novel comes from her experience; she grew up on Boston’s north shore and has struggled with alcoholism herself.

You can watch Leary’s interview on CBS Good Morning about the book.

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About Nancy Fontaine

Nancy Fontaine is a librarian and freelance writer living in New Hampshire with her husband, two cats, and every four years during presidential primary season, the national press.