Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: The Good House by Ann Leary

I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions. ~ First Sentence of The Good House


The Good House by Ann Leary
St. Martin's Press, 2013
Fiction; 292 pgs
From the Publisher:
Ann Leary's 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.
Where to begin?  Should I tell you how much I liked this book?  I thought the author, Ann Leary, did an amazing job in capturing Hildy's voice and letting the reader experience exactly what Hildy was going through as the novel went on--without having to tell the reader directly.  For the writing alone, I give this book an A+.

On a more personal note, I found an eerie similarity between Hildy's character and my father, both in attitude, rationalizations, and drinking problem.  As a result, this book touched close to home.  Instead of dredging up old memories and feeling overly emotional, however, I found myself laughing out loud (and wondering if I was a bad person for doing so) and at the same time feeling sad for Hildy.  Sad at how alone she was.  Sad she was unable to recognize the seriousness of her drinking problem.  And sad for how out of control her life was even despite her attempts at trying to control it.  I admit I sat on the edge of my seat for most of this book, knowing, just knowing, something bad was going to happen.  While this book isn't one I would label a thriller, it certainly has some of the elements of a thriller in terms of suspense.  Or maybe that was just me.

The reader learns more about Hildy and why she turned to alcohol to numb her troubles over the course of the novel, from the death of her mother to her divorce to recent events.  Hildy is a private business woman, a realtor, competing in a corporate world, where even the business of real estate has become a big box store kind of business.  I was glad the author addressed that issue, as I think it is a reality many face today.  It's yet another stressor in her life that Hildy tries hard to fight against and cope with.

Hildy is an unreliable narrator to be sure. Written in first person, the reader is inside Hildy's head, only able to see and hear her own thoughts about those around her.  Hildy shows great insight at times, but at others a total lack there of. I think, however, we get a good feel for the town and the people in Hildy's life in what Hildy shares with us--and what she doesn't.  Hildy is the gatekeeper of secrets, it would seem, and boy, does she know some juicy ones!

Some of the major players in the novel, other than Hildy, is her newest friend Rebecca, an unhappy wife and mother, who is fairly new to town.  Rebecca is the first person Hildy feels she can be real with, even when it comes to her continued drinking, which everyone thinks she's given up.  Rebecca has her own problems, of course, including having fallen in love with the local psychiatrist.  Then there is Peter, the psychiatrist, who I never quite got a good handle on.  Oh, and Frank.  I really liked Frank.  And I hated the way Hildy treated him at times.  He and she had been an item in her late teen years, before Hildy went off to college and got married.

As with Hildy and her struggle to stay afloat business wise, the author delves into life in a small rather wealthy town, in which old and new money mix, where life time residents and newbies find a way to co-exist.  There are interesting dynamics at play as a result.  I was especially drawn to Cassie's family, and her son Jake who had special needs.  They are clearly not a family of means, but they have long been in their home, and now need to find a way out in order for Jake to attend a better school in a different town.  I confess I was not a big Hildy fan, but I did have a lot of respect for the efforts she made to help Cassie's family.  Even if she told herself she was doing it for the sale, it showed a more compassionate side of Hildy that was too often lacking in her character.

The Good House was an interesting read on many levels.  I went into the novel not really knowing what to expect, and what I found was an entertaining and thought provoking novel.  There is an air of mystery about it, a building of tension that rivals the best thrillers, and psychological insights into the impact of secrets and alcohol abuse has on oneself and those around us.  I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

You can learn more about Ann Leary and her books on the author's website.

Source: I purchased the e-copy version of this book for my own reading pleasure.  

© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

28 comments:

  1. You are spot on. I laughed at Hildy's antics, but then I'd feel bad because she had these sad moments when her paranoia made her pitiable. Her paranoia did make it a little scary at times. Overall though she was a delightful character who didn't take herself too seriously. Did I tell you (I tell everyone, I'm sorry but I'm excited) that they are making this into a movie with Meryl Streep and Robert DeNiro? I am so FLIPPING excited.

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    1. Sandy - I thought I remember talk of a movie, but somehow I forgot! It sounds like the casting is good. Hopefully the movie will be too!

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  2. I really enjoyed this book as well, thinking it was both well-written, and liking the character of Hildy. I was also surprised to learn that the author is married to Denis Leary.

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    1. Bridget - I didn't know that about the author being married to Denis Leary. Sounds like a talented family. :-)

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  3. I'm not sure I would have picked this one up on my own, but your review is so intriguing!
    Great review, Wendy, adding this one to my wish list.

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    1. Jenclair - I probably would not have picked this one up if so many people I trust hadn't praised it (and it was a group read, which is why I read it when I did). I am glad I read it. It wasn't quite what I expected, but that didn't stop me from liking the book.

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  4. I've heard so many good things about this book. I've been meaning to listen to it since I have the audio for ages. Must do so soon! Glad you liked it so much.

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    1. Darlene - The audio comes highly recommended, so I imagine you can't go wrong listening to it that way!

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  5. I just bought this one recently - I really must read it soon!

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    1. Lisa - I hope you like it when you get to it. I'll be anxious to read your thoughts on it.

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  6. I've been intrigued by the tittle and cover of this book but had never really taken the time to find out much about it. It definitely sounds like a good if complicated read. Going on the TBR!

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    1. Katherine - This is a nuanced read, one that made for a good discussion in my book group. I am glad I read it.

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  7. I think the premise is good but not sure if I'd want to read this until I read your lovely review. Will add this to my to-read list.

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    1. Melody - I hope you like it if you do read it, Melody.

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  8. I liked this one an awful lot Wendy. Glad u enjoyed it too.

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    1. Diane - I can definitely see why you liked this one so much. It was really good!

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  9. Not a book I'd buy but probably one I'd pick up if I were to see it in the library. Thanks for such a great review, clearly it was a very personal one given that Hildy struck such a chord with you.

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    1. Tracy - I was surprised it didn't hit more of a emotional chord with me, but it definitely hit close to him in regards to the alcoholism issue.

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  10. I listened to this on audio and it was so good. Did you know there is a movie coming out with Meryl Streep as Hildy and Robert De Niro as Frank?

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    1. Carrie - Although this isn't the type of book I would normally re-read, I've heard such good things about the audio, I might have to listen to it anyway.

      I just heard about the cast for the movie! I'm hoping it will be good!

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  11. I have heard a lot about this author but I haven't exactly been intrigued by it. I will have to check it out, it sounds like it will be great on audio.

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    1. Athira - Many people swear the audio version is the way to go, so you might give it a try that way if you are interested. I know what you mean though. If so many people I know and trust hadn't recommended this one to me, it's probably one I would have skipped too.

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  12. That's great that The Good House resonated with you and that you were able to enjoy it. It sounds like an intriguing book.

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    1. Naida - I actually didn't expect to like it as much as I did. I'm glad I read it.

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  13. I've been looking at this one recently, wondering about getting a copy. The first sentence (which I love) doesn't sound like it has much baring on the rest, but the story sounds good enough for me to let that go.

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    1. Charlie - I think to some extent the first sentence carries through the rest of the novel, although clearly Hildy is more insightful when it comes to others than she is about herself. She can read people very well, a trick she learned as a child from a fortune telling relative. :-)

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  14. I'm really intrigued after reading your thoughts on this one! I'm such a sucker for an unreliable narrator. It instantly makes me want to read the book when I hear about it. Ha! Adding yet another book to the TBR list thanks to you :)

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    1. Samantha - Same here. There's just something about an unreliable narrator that makes me want to read a book. :-)

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