The Good House, Ann Leary’s latest novel is already a national best seller, receiving praise for its moving and comedic perspective of alcoholism. The story takes place in Windover, MA, a fictional town on Boston’s North Shore, and is narrated through the eyes of Hildy Good, a descendent of the Salem witch, Sarah Good, and at one time the area’s most successful real estate agent.
Since her intervention and month in rehab (an event in her life she thanks her daughters for), Hildy’s business has dwindled along with her social life and sense of companionship.
She drinks alone at night and delights in this secret of hers. The story starts with arrival of the McAllisters in Windover. Brian is Mr. Boston, and Rebecca is a trophy wife with rich, historical roots. Hildy has a learned gift for reading people by their living environments and can clearly see Rebecca is struggling with depression.
When the two of them strike up a friendship, Hildy gains a drinking buddy (which only increases her drinking habit) and Rebecca gains a friend and confidant, someone she can talk to about her inappropriate, but exciting relationship with the town psychiatrist.
The novel starts slow, as novels often can, and the focus swings from the newcomers to Hildy. The depths of denial and alcoholism roll over her like the waves of Manchester Bay as she tries to improve her business and reestablish a relationship with an old lover. Hildy continually pushes her drinking limits, at times causing the listener to cringe and curse.
Ann Leary’s main character is well rounded, being a well-known figure in the community who relates well with the supporting cast. However, Hildy Good is also a bit of a train wreck (one that the listener can’t turn his ears from). It becomes tough to keep rooting for her when she continually flips the switch from reasonable (seeming like she just might be starting to get a clue or get it together) to derailed (delusional, defensive, and self-righteous).
In other words, Ann Leary has realistically and successfully created an alcoholic character who makes you question your own drinking habits and can, much like a friend who has had too much to drink, annoy you (in Hildy’s case to the point of wanting to stop the CD). If you place your trust in the author though, she will deliver a set up, twist, and a satisfying conclusion.
Whatever you may think of the novel, stage and screen actress Mary Beth Hurt does a fantastic job bringing Hildy to life vocally in all her facets. Her voices for the children and some of the town’s men are welcome in differentiating dialogue, but are comical and stereotypical. The tracks on the CDs are separated into fewer, and therefore longer tracks, which is great when you have longer periods of time to listen but makes listening on the go more difficult. There were times when I wasn’t into the story or the characters which makes paying attention and investing the time to listen difficult, but on the whole, The Good House succeeded in bringing me into its world, stirring responses and emotions, and telling a complete and satisfactory account of an alcoholic’s struggle.
The author is talented and the reader adept; they have created an comprehensively compelling audio experience.