The Good House by Ann Leary

During the Salem Witch Trials, Sarah Good was accused and convicted of witchcraft (also of note, she was referred to as “Goody Good,” which I find pretty darn funny). Over 300 years later, one of Goody’s descendants, Hildy, is also the victim of a witch hunt, or so she would have us believe. Hildy, on the heels of an intervention and a stint in rebab, is now clean, sober, and back to selling houses. Well, she does indulge in a few glasses of wine each night, but wine doesn’t count. She’s not even sure why her daughters held the intervention anyway – she is clearly not an alcoholic. Regardless, Hildy has decided that even though she does not have a drinking problem, it’s best that she drink only in the privacy of her home now to keep the rumor mill at bay. Increasingly, though, she shares her nightly wine ritual with town newcomer Rebecca McAllister, who has a barrage of her own problems.

Set in the invented town of Wendover, Massachusetts, The Good House is in many ways a modern day version of the Salem Witch Trials. Hildy does not believe she has a problem. Similarly, she believes that her perceived psychic ability is not a relic of her witchy heritage, but a mere parlor trick that she has perfected over the years. The locals of Westover feel differently on both counts. Perception  is everything, and just as Hildy sometimes suspects that there is something more to her ability to read people, she also seems skeptical regarding her drinking habits. At the start of the novel, Hildy offers somewhat reasonable explanations for her drinking, and it seems more than feasible that her children may have overreacted. “Thanksgiving is a lot to ask of a sober person,” Hildy explains in one instance, which is certainly a universal truth if I’ve ever heard one. Still, as the novel progresses, her rationale is increasingly desperate, and her justifications more urgent. She insists that she’ll only have one glass, “just to take the edge off,” or that “I was better company when I drank.” By the end, it is clear that the only person Hildy is trying to convince is herself.

Hildy Good is quite the protagonist, and with Ann Leary’s distinctive voice and humorous touch, it is practically impossible to dislike this woman, no matter how troubled she becomes.  Addicts have a reputation for being spectacular liars, and Leary has noted in an interview that she wanted readers to question Hildy’s reliability as a narrator. We want to believe her because we genuinely like and worry about her – that’s quite a feat on Leary’s part.

The Good House is instantly captivating, and I couldn’t put it down. My mind wandered a bit during the sections regarding Rebecca McAllister’s equestrian activities, which are a bit dry and unnecessary, but these portions are not large enough to detract from the novel as a whole. I was  hoping for more answers and more resolution by the novel’s abrupt conclusion, but this might just be because I didn’t want it to end.

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