Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Good House

The Good House
Ann Leary
3 / 5

Published 2013

First Sentence
"I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions.
Publisher's Description:
A riveting novel in which an engaging and wildly irreverent woman is in complete denial — about herself, her drinking, and her love for a man she's known all her life.

The Good House tells the story of Hildy Good, who lives in a small town on Boston's North Shore. Hildy is a successful real-estate broker, good neighbor, mother, and grandmother. She's also a raging alcoholic. Hildy's family held an intervention for her about a year before this story takes place — "if they invite you over for dinner, and it's not a major holiday," she advises "run for your life" — and now she feels lonely and unjustly persecuted. She has also fooled herself into thinking that moderation is the key to her drinking problem.

As if battling her demons wasn't enough to keep her busy, Hildy soon finds herself embroiled in the underbelly of her New England town, a craggy little place that harbors secrets. There's a scandal, some mysticism, babies, old houses, drinking, and desire — and a love story between two craggy sixty-somethings that's as real and sexy as you get. 

An exceptional novel that is at turns hilarious and sobering, The Good House asks the question: What will it take to keep Hildy Good from drinking? For good. 

Dear Reader,

Okay -- is it REALLY that illegal to sleep with a former patient? One you only saw professionally like once before you become involved and thus didn’t treat anymore? Totally unethical, yes. Ugh because they were also both married. Risky to his professional career, yes. But - illegal? I don’t buy it as being such a big thing as they are making it out to be! (Okay, I have learned after doing some research that there are states (anywhere from 15-23 of them) which do have laws criminalizing sexual therapist-patient relationships, and I do get that - there is a vulnerability there which can certainly be taken advantage of - but again, if a person removes themselves from the doctor-patient relationship for that reason, is it then illegal? - of course, we know that the characters in this book could have done no such thing officially, since they were both married…) Anyway! What an odd thing for me to focus on, but I just kept not being able to get past that while reading. Apparently, I should have - it is in fact the reason the author even wrote the book: originally, it was the story of the illicit relationship, but evolved into being the story of a recovering alcoholic, and the reader then sees affair story through her eyes.

In other news, I could not STAND Hildy. She and her daughters clearly hated each other 99% of the time. Why were they even in each other’s lives? And she was so self-righteous even when she was clearly in the wrong. And so entitled! Believing she deserved a real estate listing just because she’d known the seller for so long. Granted, okay, I did believed she deserved it too, because she was the only local agent, was just annoying. How she almost threatened Peter over it! I really disliked her right then.

Part of it must have been the narrator’s voice. She always sounded so freaking SMUG, about everything! I don’t think she read the book right. Plus, if she wasn’t smug, she sounded like she was just about to laugh with everything she said. I like that SOMEtimes. Not with every single sentence of the book! And let’s not get me started on how awful I thought her Frank voice was…!

However, I can’t say I disliked this book, particularly because it was not about the character of the narrator so much as it was her story of recovery - and I understand that the author wrote her very much the way she did so that she could show the true nature of denial and pride that many alcoholics hide behind. So I did appreciate that aspect of the book, and why Hildy had such a grating personality. (I guess I just  couldn’t see why everyone in town seemed to like her, too, though! Maybe it was just her longevity in Wendover...)

Oddly, this was the second novel I have read this year where the protagonist has to sort through the broken memories of an alcoholic blackout in order to remember whether a crime had been committed!

One of the things I loved best about this book was the strong connection to witchcraft - in a not-fantastical way. As in, Hildy had ancestors who had been tried as witches in the Salem trials, and she felt as if she still had a bit of that nature in her own blood. She was able to “read people’s minds” (a parlor trick she was quite good at) and she called her pet dogs her “familiars,” which I found cute. There was a bit of that old New England feel about the whole town, which I felt connected to - I especially appreciated that it was a story which took place in the North Shore of Boston. It felt cozy and comfortable and familiar to me. 

I’d recommend this to a book club, as I think readers will have much they want to discuss. I think it is the perfect book for a group, with all of its layers and subplots. While not a favorite, an enjoyable and well-written read.


P.S. Until typing out that first sentence above, I hadn't recalled its portentousness!

The Good House

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