Hildy Good is someone you will want to know. The outspoken narrator of Ann Leary’s 2012 novel “The Good House” takes you into her confidence right away, or so it seems. Leary’s 60-something character is a top-notch realtor in the fictitious coastal Massachusetts town of Wendover. She lives alone with her two dogs in the house she once shared with her ex-husband and girls. On page one she informs us she can tell everything about a person from one quick walk through their house.
“Alcoholics, hoarders, binge eaters, addicts, sexual deviants, philanderers, depressives—you name it,” she says. “I can see it all in the worn edges of their nests.” Spend a little time with Hildy, though, and you’ll begin to see the frayed edges of her own nest, especially after she has downed several glasses of good California wine.
Hildy’s house hasn’t seen any visitors for a couple of years except for her grown daughters who drop by unannounced. The two of them surprised her with an “intervention” two years before the story opens, when the group of her loved ones “took turns reading aloud the excruciatingly elaborate details of [her] alleged sodden crimes.” She had been furious they accused her of “passing out” before Thanksgiving dinner one year. She was only napping, she insists.
Wendover has been Hildy’s home her whole life, but a newcomer to town and a former high school boyfriend set in motion circumstances that dramatically change her routine-filled life. She befriends Rebecca McAllister, a wealthy but discontented young wife and mother who bought the grand old property that was Hildy’s listing; Frankie Getchell, a man Hildy knew in high school as rugged and sexy is now a hermit-like handyman who collects the town’s garbage.
This book is alive with the electricity of Hildy’s funny, frank voice, the surprising information she delivers and the unexpected things she does. As things heat up, we know Hildy is headed down a dangerous path but to where, we do not know.
When Hildy talks about blackouts, it rings of truth — “It’s like a suctioning of the soul, being told the things your body does when your mind is in that dead zone.” Leary, a former screenwriter, writes from experience and has been in the public eye talking about her battle with alcoholism and her seven years of sobriety. Like Hildy, she knows that the sublime feelings one can get from drinking come at a very high price.
“The Good House” introduces us to a unique and appealing character you may not admire but you will not forget. I miss Hildy’s company already.