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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Good House - Ann Leary

I selected this novel as part of a effort to look for books that may be of interest to a book group focused on "Boomer Generation" themes. This book qualifies because its heroine named Hildy is a 60-year-old divorcee who is a long time resident of a fictional town on Boston's North Shore. She has been the town's most successful real estate agent for decades which gives her a unique insight into the non-public psychology of many of the town's residents.


'I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions. .... "Alcoholics, hoarders, binge eaters, addicts, sexual deviants, philanderers, depressives ­ you name it, I can see it all in the worn edges of their nests." '


The first person narrative by Hildy includes descriptions of various town residents confirming her thorough knowledge of the intimate goings-on in the neighborhood. However, as the book's story progresses we also learn that our heroine has her own non-public problems to deal with. She recounts how a couple years previous friends and family staged an intervention and sent her off to a "detox" camp to cure her alcoholism. She learned from this experience to only drink alone and secretly. She rationalizes that she's not an alcoholic now because she's limits her drinks to wine.


The town's social structure and economy are experiencing problematic change as well. The small town charm has attracted the attention of wealthy Boston folks seeking weekend retreats thus driving up real estate prices beyond the range of local "townies." Local businesses are being replaced by national chains. Even Hildy's business is threatened by her former assistant who is now an agent for Sotheby's real estate franchise.


It is within this setting that the book's story develops a plot packed with small-town intrigues: extramarital affairs, feuding mothers, a missing special needs 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 -- a portrait of the queen of denial.


The overall tone of the story is a bit gossipy in style with its tattling about the seamier side of a small New England village. But the plot evolves into a climax toward the end that makes the book worthwhile reading.


So am I going to recommend this book for a "Boomer Generation" book group? Well, I'll probably suggest it for consideration. Since it provides a look at the darker side of human foibles, relationship issues and maladapted psychology it lacks the subtle humor and charming elegance of the novel Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (another book the group recently discussed). However, this book has the potential for initiating conversations about problems faced by people in their daily lives.