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.
A note from Lee Woodruff on Ann Leary: I became an Ann Leary fan with her memoir An Innocent, A Broad. And like any fan, by the time I finally met her, I was mewling like a bucktoothed school girl at her first spin the bottle sleepover. She didn't disappoint. I loved Ann's first two books. I mean, the woman can write. She can really write, dammit. And in her second novel, The Good House, she weaves a tale that is engrossing, fresh and very, very real. These could be the people in your town, warts and all. I was eager to interview Ann and hear how this book had come together. And I'm happy to share some of these insights with you here.
Lee Woodruff: What was your biggest challenge in writing this book?
Ann Leary: My narrator was a bit of a handful. The Good House is told from the point of view of Hildy Good, who may or may not be an alcoholic. Her daughters think she is, but she is quite confident that she is not. So my biggest challenge was to make Hildy reliable enough to have the reader on her side and actually rooting for her, yet at the same time, question whether she's being completely honest.
LW: Is it fun or arduous to choose character names? And how do you?
AL: I love choosing names for my characters. This novel is set in the fictitious town of Wendover, Massachusetts, which is on Boston's North Shore, near Salem, Essex, and Ipswich. There are still people in that area who have ancestors who were involved in the famous Salem witch trials, so I chose to make my main character a descendent of a real witch, whose name was Sarah Good. I liked the name Hildy because it sounds like a witch's name. Frank Getchell, a fellow townie with whom Hildy shares a complicated past, was just always Frank, in my mind. I've never met a Frank I didn't like. Rebecca McAllister is the beautiful newcomer. I thought her name sounded lyrical with all the syllables, and there is a sort of flowing grace about Rebecca, at least Hildy believes there is when she first meets her. Then it was fun coming up with some of the nicknames "Sleepy Haskell" etc. Names people got when they were kids and that have stuck with them all their lives.
LW: OK--let's get past it–-the dreaded fiction author question--how much of you is in Hildy?
AL: I've written another novel and a memoir and have learned that when you write non-fiction, people always want to know what you made up. And when you write fiction, people always want to know how much of it is true. But the great thing about writing fiction is you can write about things that you wish were true and that's what I did when I wrote Hildy's character.
There is quite a bit of Hildy in me, as I have had my own personal struggles with alcoholism. But we are also very different. Hildy is in her sixties, and a real New England Yankee--wry, opinionated somewhat strident and I've always admired her type. I'd like to be a tough old bird. I'd like to not always be trying to please everybody.
LW: Whether or not we want to admit it, we all have our individual and sometimes weird writing rituals. Will you divulge yours?
AL: I try to write every day and I always write in the morning. We have a lot of animals–-dogs, cats, horses–-and I get up between 5 and 6 everyday to tend to them and then I return to my bed-desk and write. I write on my bed with my four dogs and there are papers and snacks and cold cups of coffee all around me. Really, it's disgusting. Think Grey Gardens. But that's how I write best, in a semi-prone position surrounded by snoring dogs.