Monday, February 11, 2013

How Good is "The Good House"?

Ann Leary’s novel “The Good House” (St. Martin’s, 2012) is about a small community on Boston’s North Shore; about living in a community where everyone thinks she or he knows everyone else’s business, but sometimes is very wrong; about affairs old and new, some of which go very, very awry; most of all, it is about alcoholism. The life of the main character, Hilda Good, a realtor, is – despite her love of her business and town – dominated by her love of drinking. As the story opens, she has just come back from rehab, but makes an exception for herself by secretly drinking increasing quantities of wine in the evenings at home, with the classic self-deluding excuse that drinking wine isn’t the same as “real” drinking. There is much in this novel about the eccentricity of some of the characters, the interactions between the oldtimers in town and the new arrivals, and the deceptiveness of appearances, but Hilda’s alcoholism is the thread throughout, the dominant story. Hilda thinks she manages fine, but her blackouts, forgotten phone calls, dangerous drunken drives through the countryside and town, and epic hangovers say otherwise. Alcoholism and its consequences is of course an important topic, and the author describes the condition of alcoholism well, but it overshadows everything else in a novel that is also meant to be, I believe, a mystery, a story of small town life, and a story of obsessive love. Whether this is a good thing or not I leave to the reader.

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