Hildy Good is a drunk, a functioning alcoholic, until she isn't, functioning that is. Hildy is also a lifelong denizen of Wendover, Massachusetts, and a highly successful real estate broker who thinks that she's hiding her drinking problem from her friends and family. She's also a ton of fun to spend time with, a witty, insightful woman who can tell you more about people after spending ten minutes in their homes than a shrink could do in a month of sessions. And there's the rub.
Normally, someone like me, who grew up in a family that drank too much and then married an alcoholic, would stay far away from the volatility of such an addictive personality. To Leary's credit as a writer, and now I'll want to go back and read more of her work, she presents Hildy as a fully rounded, complex, interesting character, one whose interior monologue is so revealing of the way that a person can talk himself into and out of the truth in the time that it takes to pour another glass of wine.
Ms. Leary adeptly captures the agony and the ecstasy of small town life, the way your neighbors know everything about you, your parents, your grandparents, and on down the line ad infinitum, until you just want to scream. Privacy is non-existent as Hildy learns when she enters Hazeldon following an intervention by her daughters. Returning to Wendover, she senses that the whole town knows where she's been. Friends can no longer meet her eye when they see her on the street, social invitations fall off, fellow members of AA ask how she's doing and the question is loaded with nuance. Oh, how she hates their assumption that she may not be quite sober.
She actually convinced me that she was coping until she sold the mansion on the hill to Rebecca and Brian McAllister. Outsiders with money are not warmly welcomed to small towns like Wendover. The other young moms resent Rebecca, her family money and her fragile beauty. They couldn't see what Hildy could, the lonely, slightly off kilter woman who became obsessed with her psychiatrist and immersed in an affair that can have only one outcome.
When Hildy becomes Rebecca's sounding board and drinking buddy the plot got more complicated and my stomach began to twist into knots. Whose truth is true? When does perception become reality? Can Frank, the man who's been half in love with Hildy since high school, save her from her own worst self? Does she even want him to?
The Good House is a novel that you can blow through in one sitting, but days after I put it aside I'm still thinking about Hildy, Frank, Rebecca and the lust for life that they represent. The caliber of Ann Leary's writing raises this book way above the level of your normal soap opera about flawed characters, a la Danielle Steel or Nicholas Sparks. It might make you uncomfortable but why not give it a try.