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Interesting,
Insightful,
Dramatic

14 reviews

The Good House: A Novel
by Ann Leary

Published: 2013-10-01
Paperback : 320 pages
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50 clubs reading this now
16 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 14 of 14 members

Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of a small community on the rocky coast of Boston's North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone. And she's good at lots of things, too. A successful real-estate broker, mother, and grandmother, her days are full. But her nights ...

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Introduction

Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of a small community on the rocky coast of Boston's North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone. And she's good at lots of things, too. A successful real-estate broker, mother, and grandmother, her days are full. But her nights have become lonely ever since her daughters, convinced their mother was drinking too much, sent her off to rehab. Now she's in recovery?more or less.

Alone and feeling unjustly persecuted, Hildy finds a friend in Rebecca McAllister, one of the town's wealthy newcomers. Rebecca is grateful for the friendship and Hildy feels like a person of the world again, as she and Rebecca escape their worries with some harmless gossip and a bottle of wine by the fire?just one of their secrets.

But Rebecca is herself the subject of town gossip. When Frank Getchell, an old friend who shares a complicated history with Hildy, tries to warn her away from Rebecca, Hildy attempts to protect her friend from a potential scandal. Soon, however, Hildy is busy trying to protect her own reputation. When a cluster of secrets becomes dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one person threatens to expose the other, and this darkly comic novel takes a chilling turn.

The Good House, by Ann Leary, is funny, poignant, and terrifying. A classic New England tale that lays bare the secrets of one little town, this spirited novel will stay with you long after the story has ended.

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.

Excerpt

one

I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions. I remember joking about this one evening with Peter Newbold, the shrink who rents the office upstairs from mine.

“The next time you get a new patient,” I offered, “I’ll sneak to their house for a walk-through. While you jot down notes about their history, dreams, whatever, I’ll shine a flashlight into the attic, open a few cupboards, and have a peek at the bedrooms. Later, when we compare notes, I’ll have the clearer picture of the person’s mental health, guaranteed.” I was teasing the doctor, of course, but I’ve been selling houses since he was in primary school, and I stand by my theory.

I like a house that looks lived in. General wear and tear is a healthy sign; a house that’s too antiseptic speaks as much to me of domestic discord as a house in complete disarray. Alcoholics, hoarders, binge eaters, addicts, sexual deviants, philanderers, depressives—you name it, I can see it all in the worn edges of their nests. You catch the smoky reek of stale scotch and cigarettes despite the desperate abundance of vanilla-scented candles. The animal stench oozes up between the floorboards, even though the cat lady and her minions were removed months before. The marital bedroom that’s become his, the cluttered guest room that’s now clearly hers—well, you get the idea.

I don’t have to go inside the house to make a diagnosis; the curbside analysis is usually enough. The McAllister house is a perfect example. In fact, I’d love to compare my original observations regarding Rebecca McAllister with Peter. She was depressed, for one. I drove past the McAllisters’ one morning in late May, not long after they’d moved in, and there she was, out in the early-morning haze, planting annuals all along the garden path. It wasn’t even seven A.M., but it was clear that she had been at it for hours. She was in a rather sheer white nightshirt, which was damp with sweat and covered with soil. People were starting to drive by, but Rebecca had become so absorbed in her gardening that it apparently hadn’t occurred to her to put on some proper clothes.

I stopped and said hello from my car window. We chatted for a few minutes about the weather, about how the kids were adjusting to their new school, but as we talked, I sensed a sadness in the way Rebecca planted—a mournfulness, as if she were placing each seedling in a tiny plot, a tiny little grave. And they were bright red impatiens that she was planting. There’s always something frantic about that kind of bold color choice for the front of a house. I said good-bye, and when I glanced back at Rebecca through my rearview mirror, it looked, from that distance, like there was a thin trail of blood leading all the way from the house to the spot where she knelt.

“I told her I would do the planting, but she likes to do it herself,” Linda Barlow, the McAllisters’ landscaper, told me later that day at the post office. “I think she’s lonely up there. I almost never see the husband.”

Linda knew I had sold them the house, and she seemed to imply that I had been derelict, somehow, in assuring the healthy acclimation of one of Wendover’s newest treasures—the McAllisters. The “wonderful McAllisters,” as Wendy Heatherton liked to call them. Wendy Heatherton and I had actually cobrokered the sale. I had the listing; Wendy, from Sotheby’s, had the wonderful McAllisters.

“It takes time,” I said to Linda.

“I guess,” she replied.

“Wendy Heatherton’s having a party for them next weekend. They’ll meet some nice people there.”

“Oh yeah, all the nice, fancy people.” Linda laughed. “You going?”

“I have to,” I said. I was flipping through my mail. It was mostly bills. Bills and junk.

“Is it hard going to parties for you? I mean … now?” Linda touched my wrist gently and softened her voice when she said this.

“What do you mean, ‘now’?” I shot back.

“Oh, nothing … Hildy,” she stammered.

“Well, good night, Linda,” I said, and turned so that she wouldn’t see how red my face had become. Imagine Linda Barlow worrying about whether it’s hard for me to go to parties. I hadn’t seen poor Linda at a party since we were in high school.

And the way she pitied Rebecca McAllister. Rebecca was married to one of the wealthiest men in New England, had two lovely children, and lived on an estate that had once belonged to Judge Raymond Barlow—Linda’s own grandfather. Linda had grown up playing at that big old house, with those gorgeous views of the harbor and the islands, but, you know, the family money had run out, the property had exchanged hands a few times, and now Linda lived in an apartment above the pharmacy in Wendover Crossing. Rebecca paid Linda to tend to some of the very same heirloom perennials—the luscious peonies, the fragrant tea rose, lilac, and honeysuckle bushes, and all the bright beds of lilies, daffodils, and irises—that her own grandmother had planted there over half a century ago.

So while it was laughable, really, that she might worry about me, it was positively absurd that she pitied Rebecca. I show homes to a lot of important people—politicians, doctors, lawyers, even the occasional celebrity—but the first time I saw Rebecca, the day I showed her the Barlow place, I have to admit, I was a little at a loss for words. A line from a poem that I had helped one of my daughters memorize for school, many years before, came to mind.

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones.

Rebecca was probably thirty or thirty-one at the time. I had Googled Brian McAllister before the showing and had expected to meet an older woman. People must think he’s her father is what I thought then, except for the fact that there was something very wise and understanding about her face, a sort of serenity in her expression that women don’t usually acquire until their kids are grown. Rebecca’s hair is dark, almost black, and that morning it had been pulled up into a messy ponytail with a colorful little scarf around it, but it was easy to see that when she let it down, it was quite long and wavy. She shook my hand and smiled at me. She’s one of those women who smiles mostly with her eyes, and her eyes appeared to be gray one minute, green the next. I guess it had to do with the light.

She was a little thin then, but her whole frame is tiny, and she wasn’t as gaunt as she later seemed. She was petite. She was beautiful. She moved in circles, and those circles moved, same poem, although I still don’t recall the name of the poet, but she was one of those effortlessly graceful women who make you feel like an ogress if you stand too close. I’m not fat, but I could lose a few. Wendy Heatherton is slim, but she’s had all sorts of liposuctioning and flesh tucking. I don’t know who the hell she thought she was kidding when she was carrying on about that gallbladder operation a few years back.

It’s a well-known fact that the McAllisters had sunk a fortune into the yearlong renovation of the old Barlow place. Brian McAllister, for those who don’t know, is one of the founders of R. E. Kerwin, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. He grew up in the bottom of a three-decker in South Boston, with four brothers and a sister, and had become a billionaire before he turned fifty. Had he married somebody else, he probably would have been living in a mansion in Wellesley or Weston with a full staff, but he had married Rebecca, who, having grown up with a staff, and distant parents, liked to do things herself.

How do I know so much about the McAllisters? It’s not just from their house. I know pretty much everything that happens in this town. One way or another, it gets back to me. I’m an old townie; the eighth-great-granddaughter of Sarah Good, one of the accused witches tried and hanged in Salem. My clients love it when I drop that into a conversation. That I descend from the witch called, so delightfully and ironically, Goodwife Good. (Yes, I always laugh with them, as if it had never occurred to me until they said it, Good ol’ Goody Good, ha-ha.) That and the fact that my family has been in Salem and here in nearby Wendover, Massachusetts, since the 1600s.

My husband, Scott, used to tell me that I’d have been hanged as a witch myself had I lived in another time. He meant it as a sort of compliment, believe it or not, and it’s true, I do rather fit the profile, especially now that I’m on the darker side of middle age. My first name is Hilda, which my children have always told me sounds like a witch’s name, but I’m called Hildy. I live alone; my daughters are grown and my husband is no longer my husband. I talk to animals. I guess that would have been a red flag. And some people think I have powers of intuition, psychic powers, which I don’t. I just know a few tricks. I have a certain type of knowledge when it comes to people and, like I said, I tend to know everybody’s business.

Well, I make it my business to know everybody’s business. I’m the top real-estate agent in a town whose main industries are antiques and real estate. It used to be shipbuilding and clams, but the last boatyard in Wendover closed down more than thirty years ago. Now, those of us who aren’t living off brand-new hedge-fund money are selling inflated waterfront properties to those who are. You can still clam here—the tidal marsh down by Getchell’s Cove is a good spot—but you can’t make your living off clams anymore. Even the clams at Clem’s Famous Fried Clams are poured into those dark vats of grease from freezer bags shipped down from Nova Scotia. No, the best way to make money up here now is through real estate: the selling, managing, improving, and maintaining of these priceless waterfront acres that used to be marshland and farms but that were recently described in Boston magazine as “the North Shore’s New Gold Coast.”

Brian McAllister happens to own Boston magazine. The day we met, after I showed him his future house, he pointed to a copy of it folded up on the seat next to me in the car and said, “Hey, that’s my magazine you got there, Hildy.”

“Really? Oh well, take it. My copy must be around here someplace.”

“No.” Brian laughed. “I own it. Boston mag. I’m the publisher. Bought it last year with a friend.”

You’re a wicked big deal, a real hotshot is what I thought. I hate rich people. Well, I’m doing all right myself these days, but I hate all the other rich people.

“It’s one of my favorite magazines,” I said.

I was showing him a two-million-dollar house, after all, a house that I knew his wife had already gutted and restored in her mind; had mentally painted and furnished and plumbed and wired and dramatically lit during the few short days since I had shown it to her.

“I bet we can give you a special advertising rate in the real-estate section, if you want,” Brian said.

“That would be great, Brian, thanks,” I said.

And I hated him a little bit less.

Copyright © 2012 by Ann Leary view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

1. Hildy Good is a complex and layered character—some might say an “unreliable narrator.” Is there a point at which you questions Hildy’s dependability? Is there a point at which she redeemed herself?
2. Hildy likes to entertain others with her “psychic powers” and yet she also informs people that she really doesn’t have any special intuition, that she “just knows a few tricks.” Does this duality show up in other parts of her personality?
3. The New England setting is very much part of The Good House. And yet the author doesn’t spend a lot of time on the description of the area. What makes this book so quintessentially New England?
4. What do you think of Hildy’s assertion that she can tell everything about a person just by walking through his or her house?
5. Wendover, Massachusetts, is being taken over by hedge-fund managers who “want it old, but want it new.” Do you think there will ever be a point at which they are accepted by the “townies?”
6. Why do you think Hildy and newcomer Rebecca McAllister become such fast friends?
7. What do you think of the author’s portrayal of alcoholism and its effects on the drinker and those around them?
8. What happens to Hildy’s attitudes about others when she drinks?
9. Frank Getchell seems an unlikely romantic figure. Why do you think he has carried a torch for Hildy all these years?
10. Hildy claims to be unsentimental about relationships and things. Do you believe this is true about her personality?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Good book for discussion
by debi123c (see profile) 10/17/16
The book made for good discussions but the questions provided were really bad so we just ha a general discussion.
The Good House Audiobook
by Edwards8 (see profile) 07/29/14
I would suggest getting the audiobook for this one. The narrator is delightful and entertaining! We had everyone bring a bottle of wine to the meeting.

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by LaurieKreitzer (see profile) 04/08/17

 
by Hindsnorth (see profile) 09/27/19

 
  "Very realistic "by debi123c (see profile) 10/17/16

Very accurate picture of an active alcoholic and the torture the put themselves and other thru. Very much a savory page turner with lots to discuss.

 
by brenstuhr (see profile) 10/15/15

 
by cooljewell (see profile) 08/13/15

 
by couchde (see profile) 08/11/15

 
  "Funny and an easy read"by Edwards8 (see profile) 07/29/14

Our book club really enjoyed this book. One of the members even stated that she now understand how an alcoholic feels about drinking, it's how she feeling about chocolate! We laughed about this book all... (read more)

 
by DaniCaraveo (see profile) 06/11/14

 
  "The Good House"by llorton (see profile) 05/21/14

Our book club was mixed in its review of this book. Some didn't relate to the characters. We all liked the setting for the novel. Most of our 11 just liked it okay.

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