Hildy Good is one of the top real estate brokers in her small town in Massachusetts. She’s a respected businesswoman, and her family has lived in town for generations. She’s even descended from one of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, a fact she plays up when showing new folks around town hoping to sell a house.
Hildy is also an alcoholic in recovery, though lately the definition of “recovery” has begun to slip for her. Though she’ll be the first to tell you that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some wine of an evening. The story of Ann Leary’s The Good House involves Hildy becoming friends with a new woman in town, Rebecca, at the same time that she rekindles a relationship with a man she’s known for years.
The Good House is a dark piece of domestic character-centered fiction. And it’s not a leisurely story. There’s lots of drama and it’s very quick-paced. But Hildy is just so compelling it’s hard to break away. The descriptive, evocative writing helps to make you feel a connection to Hildy. The first-person narration helps the connection as well, creating a character that feels real and truthful and sometimes pitiable and unlikable.
At its core this is a story of a woman working through alcoholism, her own angry, private struggle. She’s lugging around a lot of baggage, and we’re witness to all of her cringe-worthy drunken episodes. At least, those she can remember. It’s due to Hildy’s alcoholism that the story takes its dark turn toward the end.
The Good House is also a story of a small New England town, and the way they are changing. Many people in this area will recognize the gentrification of a beautiful coastal community, and the way townies whose families have lived somewhere for hundreds of years can no longer afford to live in their hometowns. Hildy’s being a real estate agent was a good choice, in that it lends this extra dimension to the story. Even though she’s a bred townie, she still cheerfully and competitively sells houses to rich people from away. There’s a wonderful sense of place and community (both good and bad) in this novel.
Readalike possibilities: Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh, though darker and with more of a mystery element, might still appeal to those who enjoyed the darker side of The Good House. It also shares the small-town New England setting. Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs might be a good choice, both for the narrator’s anger, unreliability, and the high drama. Last, Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train could also work, particularly Rachel’s storyline. There’s more violence and thriller aspects in that one, but it’s still very character- and relationship-centered.