Good House (Leary)

The Good House
Ann Leary, 2013
St. Martin's Press
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781250043030

How can you prove you're not an alcoholic? You can’t. It's like trying to prove you're not a witch.

Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of an historic community on the rocky coast of Boston’s North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone. Hildy is a descendant of one of the witches hung in nearby Salem, and is believed, by some, to have inherited psychic gifts.

Not true, of course; she’s just good at reading people. Hildy is good at lots of things. 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, staged an intervention and sent her off to rehab. Now she’s in recovery—more or less.

Alone and feeling unjustly persecuted, Hildy needs a friend. She finds one in Rebecca McCallister, a beautiful young mother and one of the town’s wealthy newcomers. Rebecca feels out-of-step in her new surroundings and 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 not everyone takes to Rebecca, who is herself the subject of town gossip. When Frank Getchell, an eccentric local 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 cover her own tracks and protect her reputation. When a cluster of secrets become dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Syracuse, New York, USA
Education—B.A., Emerson College
Currently—lives in Connecticut

Ann Leary is the author of the memoir An Innocent, A Broad (2004) and three novels, Outtakes From a Marriage (2008) and The Good House (2013), and The Children (2016).

She has written fiction and nonfiction for various publications and media outlets, including New York Times, Ploughshares, National Public Radio, Redbook, and Real Simple, among other publications

Leary was born in Syracuse, N.Y., but moved around with her family, living in various parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Michigan, Wisconsin. She finally landed in Marblehead, Massachusetts, where she graduated from high school.

With short-lived friendships in so many places, Anne turned to books early on. She especially loved stories about animals—A Jungle Book, Black Beauty, Lassie come Home, My Friend Flicka, and all the Black Stallion books (her love for all things equestrian continues to this day).

She believes that the first non-animal book she ever read was while babysitting at age thirteen, when she picked up Anais Nin's Delta of Venus. From that point she switched her allegiance from books about four-legged creatures to books about two-legged ones, in particular inspiring stories about beautiful, opium-addicted nymphomaniacs!

Leary attended Bennington College in Vermont for two years then switched to Emerson College in Boston. It was there that she met her to-be husband, actor-comedian Dennis Leary, who was teaching a comedy-writing course. The two married in 1989 and have two now grown children.

Leary competes in equestrian sports and has been a volunteer EMT. She and her husband live with dogs, cats, and horses on their farm in northwestern Connecticut. (Author bio adapted from the publisher and

Book Reviews
The Good House has a plot packed with small-town intrigues: extramarital affairs, feuding mothers, a missing child and psychic powers that trace back to the Salem witch trials, to name a few. But the book’s real strength lies in its evocation of Hildy’s inner world.... Leary writes with humor and insight, revealing both the pure pleasure of drinking and the lies and justifications of alcoholism, the warmth Hildy feels toward others when she drinks and the desperation that makes her put alcohol before the people she loves. The result is a layered and complex portrait of a woman struggling with addiction, in a town where no secret stays secret for long.
J. Courtney Sullivan - New York Times Book Review

Leary... gleefully peels back the pretensions that so often accompany portraits of ye olde Americana.
USA Today

A sophisticated turn on guilty-pleasure reading that is so well-written it won't make you feel guilty after all, except maybe about reaching for that third glass of pinot noir.
The Huffington Post

Fresh, sharp and masterfully told. Hildy’s tale is as intoxicating as it is sobering.

Superstition, drama, and intrigue unspool at a perfect pace in Ann Leary’s irresistible new novel, The Good House, a tale steeped in New England character and small-town social tumult.

One of the best works of Massachusetts fiction in recent memory.
Boston Magazine

Hildy Good is a realtor in Wendover, the little Massachusetts town where she's lived her entire life.... Leary creates a long-winded and melodramatic Peyton Place, but convincingly displays the corrosive and sometimes dire consequences of denial and overconfidence
Publishers Weekly

Leary’s powerfully perceptive and smartly nuanced portrait of the perils of alcoholism is enhanced by her spot-on depiction of staid New England village life and the redemption to be found in traditions and community.

Hildy is an original, irresistibly likable and thoroughly untrustworthy...a genuinely funny novel about alcoholism.
Kirkus Reviews

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?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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