The Good House: A Novel

The Good House: A Novel

by Ann Leary


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Hildy Good is a townie. A lifelong resident of a small community on the rocky coast of Boston's North Shore, she knows pretty much everything about everyone. And she's good at lots of things, too. 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, sent her off to rehab. Now she's in recovery—more or less.

Alone and feeling unjustly persecuted, Hildy finds a friend in Rebecca McAllister, one of the town's wealthy newcomers. Rebecca 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 Rebecca is herself the subject of town gossip. When Frank Getchell, an old friend 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 protect her own reputation. When a cluster of secrets becomes dangerously entwined, the reckless behavior of one person 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250043030
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 10/01/2013
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 389,674
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Ann Leary is the author of the memoir An Innocent, A Broad and the novel Outtakes from a Marriage. She has written fiction and nonfiction for various magazines and literary publications and is a cohost of the NPR weekly radio show Hash Hags. Ann competes in equestrian sports and is a volunteer EMT. She and her family share their small farm in Connecticut with four dogs, three horses, and an angry cat named Sneakers.

Read an Excerpt



I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions. I remember joking about this one evening with Peter Newbold, the shrink who rents the office upstairs from mine.

“The next time you get a new patient,” I offered, “I’ll sneak to their house for a walk-through. While you jot down notes about their history, dreams, whatever, I’ll shine a flashlight into the attic, open a few cupboards, and have a peek at the bedrooms. Later, when we compare notes, I’ll have the clearer picture of the person’s mental health, guaranteed.” I was teasing the doctor, of course, but I’ve been selling houses since he was in primary school, and I stand by my theory.

I like a house that looks lived in. General wear and tear is a healthy sign; a house that’s too antiseptic speaks as much to me of domestic discord as a house in complete disarray. Alcoholics, hoarders, binge eaters, addicts, sexual deviants, philanderers, depressives—you name it, I can see it all in the worn edges of their nests. You catch the smoky reek of stale scotch and cigarettes despite the desperate abundance of vanilla-scented candles. The animal stench oozes up between the floorboards, even though the cat lady and her minions were removed months before. The marital bedroom that’s become his, the cluttered guest room that’s now clearly hers—well, you get the idea.

I don’t have to go inside the house to make a diagnosis; the curbside analysis is usually enough. The McAllister house is a perfect example. In fact, I’d love to compare my original observations regarding Rebecca McAllister with Peter. She was depressed, for one. I drove past the McAllisters’ one morning in late May, not long after they’d moved in, and there she was, out in the early-morning haze, planting annuals all along the garden path. It wasn’t even seven A.M., but it was clear that she had been at it for hours. She was in a rather sheer white nightshirt, which was damp with sweat and covered with soil. People were starting to drive by, but Rebecca had become so absorbed in her gardening that it apparently hadn’t occurred to her to put on some proper clothes.

I stopped and said hello from my car window. We chatted for a few minutes about the weather, about how the kids were adjusting to their new school, but as we talked, I sensed a sadness in the way Rebecca planted—a mournfulness, as if she were placing each seedling in a tiny plot, a tiny little grave. And they were bright red impatiens that she was planting. There’s always something frantic about that kind of bold color choice for the front of a house. I said good-bye, and when I glanced back at Rebecca through my rearview mirror, it looked, from that distance, like there was a thin trail of blood leading all the way from the house to the spot where she knelt.

“I told her I would do the planting, but she likes to do it herself,” Linda Barlow, the McAllisters’ landscaper, told me later that day at the post office. “I think she’s lonely up there. I almost never see the husband.”

Linda knew I had sold them the house, and she seemed to imply that I had been derelict, somehow, in assuring the healthy acclimation of one of Wendover’s newest treasures—the McAllisters. The “wonderful McAllisters,” as Wendy Heatherton liked to call them. Wendy Heatherton and I had actually cobrokered the sale. I had the listing; Wendy, from Sotheby’s, had the wonderful McAllisters.

“It takes time,” I said to Linda.

“I guess,” she replied.

“Wendy Heatherton’s having a party for them next weekend. They’ll meet some nice people there.”

“Oh yeah, all the nice, fancy people.” Linda laughed. “You going?”

“I have to,” I said. I was flipping through my mail. It was mostly bills. Bills and junk.

“Is it hard going to parties for you? I mean … now?” Linda touched my wrist gently and softened her voice when she said this.

“What do you mean, ‘now’?” I shot back.

“Oh, nothing … Hildy,” she stammered.

“Well, good night, Linda,” I said, and turned so that she wouldn’t see how red my face had become. Imagine Linda Barlow worrying about whether it’s hard for me to go to parties. I hadn’t seen poor Linda at a party since we were in high school.

And the way she pitied Rebecca McAllister. Rebecca was married to one of the wealthiest men in New England, had two lovely children, and lived on an estate that had once belonged to Judge Raymond Barlow—Linda’s own grandfather. Linda had grown up playing at that big old house, with those gorgeous views of the harbor and the islands, but, you know, the family money had run out, the property had exchanged hands a few times, and now Linda lived in an apartment above the pharmacy in Wendover Crossing. Rebecca paid Linda to tend to some of the very same heirloom perennials—the luscious peonies, the fragrant tea rose, lilac, and honeysuckle bushes, and all the bright beds of lilies, daffodils, and irises—that her own grandmother had planted there over half a century ago.

So while it was laughable, really, that she might worry about me, it was positively absurd that she pitied Rebecca. I show homes to a lot of important people—politicians, doctors, lawyers, even the occasional celebrity—but the first time I saw Rebecca, the day I showed her the Barlow place, I have to admit, I was a little at a loss for words. A line from a poem that I had helped one of my daughters memorize for school, many years before, came to mind.

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones.

Rebecca was probably thirty or thirty-one at the time. I had Googled Brian McAllister before the showing and had expected to meet an older woman. People must think he’s her father is what I thought then, except for the fact that there was something very wise and understanding about her face, a sort of serenity in her expression that women don’t usually acquire until their kids are grown. Rebecca’s hair is dark, almost black, and that morning it had been pulled up into a messy ponytail with a colorful little scarf around it, but it was easy to see that when she let it down, it was quite long and wavy. She shook my hand and smiled at me. She’s one of those women who smiles mostly with her eyes, and her eyes appeared to be gray one minute, green the next. I guess it had to do with the light.

She was a little thin then, but her whole frame is tiny, and she wasn’t as gaunt as she later seemed. She was petite. She was beautiful. She moved in circles, and those circles moved, same poem, although I still don’t recall the name of the poet, but she was one of those effortlessly graceful women who make you feel like an ogress if you stand too close. I’m not fat, but I could lose a few. Wendy Heatherton is slim, but she’s had all sorts of liposuctioning and flesh tucking. I don’t know who the hell she thought she was kidding when she was carrying on about that gallbladder operation a few years back.

It’s a well-known fact that the McAllisters had sunk a fortune into the yearlong renovation of the old Barlow place. Brian McAllister, for those who don’t know, is one of the founders of R. E. Kerwin, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. He grew up in the bottom of a three-decker in South Boston, with four brothers and a sister, and had become a billionaire before he turned fifty. Had he married somebody else, he probably would have been living in a mansion in Wellesley or Weston with a full staff, but he had married Rebecca, who, having grown up with a staff, and distant parents, liked to do things herself.

How do I know so much about the McAllisters? It’s not just from their house. I know pretty much everything that happens in this town. One way or another, it gets back to me. I’m an old townie; the eighth-great-granddaughter of Sarah Good, one of the accused witches tried and hanged in Salem. My clients love it when I drop that into a conversation. That I descend from the witch called, so delightfully and ironically, Goodwife Good. (Yes, I always laugh with them, as if it had never occurred to me until they said it, Good ol’ Goody Good, ha-ha.) That and the fact that my family has been in Salem and here in nearby Wendover, Massachusetts, since the 1600s.

My husband, Scott, used to tell me that I’d have been hanged as a witch myself had I lived in another time. He meant it as a sort of compliment, believe it or not, and it’s true, I do rather fit the profile, especially now that I’m on the darker side of middle age. My first name is Hilda, which my children have always told me sounds like a witch’s name, but I’m called Hildy. I live alone; my daughters are grown and my husband is no longer my husband. I talk to animals. I guess that would have been a red flag. And some people think I have powers of intuition, psychic powers, which I don’t. I just know a few tricks. I have a certain type of knowledge when it comes to people and, like I said, I tend to know everybody’s business.

Well, I make it my business to know everybody’s business. I’m the top real-estate agent in a town whose main industries are antiques and real estate. It used to be shipbuilding and clams, but the last boatyard in Wendover closed down more than thirty years ago. Now, those of us who aren’t living off brand-new hedge-fund money are selling inflated waterfront properties to those who are. You can still clam here—the tidal marsh down by Getchell’s Cove is a good spot—but you can’t make your living off clams anymore. Even the clams at Clem’s Famous Fried Clams are poured into those dark vats of grease from freezer bags shipped down from Nova Scotia. No, the best way to make money up here now is through real estate: the selling, managing, improving, and maintaining of these priceless waterfront acres that used to be marshland and farms but that were recently described in Boston magazine as “the North Shore’s New Gold Coast.”

Brian McAllister happens to own Boston magazine. The day we met, after I showed him his future house, he pointed to a copy of it folded up on the seat next to me in the car and said, “Hey, that’s my magazine you got there, Hildy.”

“Really? Oh well, take it. My copy must be around here someplace.”

“No.” Brian laughed. “I own it. Boston mag. I’m the publisher. Bought it last year with a friend.”

You’re a wicked big deal, a real hotshot is what I thought. I hate rich people. Well, I’m doing all right myself these days, but I hate all the other rich people.

“It’s one of my favorite magazines,” I said.

I was showing him a two-million-dollar house, after all, a house that I knew his wife had already gutted and restored in her mind; had mentally painted and furnished and plumbed and wired and dramatically lit during the few short days since I had shown it to her.

“I bet we can give you a special advertising rate in the real-estate section, if you want,” Brian said.

“That would be great, Brian, thanks,” I said.

And I hated him a little bit less.


Copyright © 2012 by Ann Leary

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The Good House: A Novel 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 101 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hate overused exclamation points but I had to use one in my headline. This novel is a must read. Ms. Leary is a wonderful writer. There is not one "extra" word in this book and I mean that in a good way. She gets to the point without rambling on but at the same time paints a vivid picture of every scene. There are laugh out loud moments and pathetically human ones. Hildy is such a complex character and Ms. Leary brings her to life on every page. I predict that when this year is over The Good House will be on the "best fiction of 2013" lists.
ad1270 More than 1 year ago
Ann Leary is a great writer, and this book hooked me from the beginning. It does not move super quickly, but it is a fast and entertaining read. Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book, so entertaining and fun. A great book to get lost in. A wonderful read for all those fellow real estate brokers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ann Leary is a wonderful author who really brings all the characters in this book to life. The book is funny, thoughtful, and sometimes sad, but most of all entertaining.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a really good book. I don't usually spend this much but it was worth it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OK: I read this immediately after finishing GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn, which is probably a tad unfair to Ann Leary. Flynn's use of language, the sheer courage of the Gone Girl format and plot, are formidable and addictive. Reading Leary's novel felt like a let-down. However, being from the north shore of Massachusetts, the setting of THE GOOD HOUSE is a kick (personally, I think the town is Wenham, with some bits of Hamilton thrown in to cover the horsey set). The descriptions of the working guys - especially Frankie -- ring especially true. Hildy is a character to neither love nor hate. Dare we say she's "meh"? The subplot revolving around a family with an autistic son, while good relief from HIldy's woes, is thin, even as it wraps up (no spoiler alert here!). However, the book hits its stride in two particular "episodes": the lobster boat expedition with Hildy on board, and a wonderfully suspenseful interplay between Hildy and Peter, the local psychiatrist, in Hildy's kitchen. Is Peter a sinister threat, or are we truly in Hildy's alcohol-addled brain? It was the NY Times interview with Ann Leary that inspired me to add THE GOOD HOUSE to my Nook. What i'd much prefer to read is a memoir of Ann Leary's own life and struggle with alcoholism. If you're in the mood for something with a Boston-y mood, try this. Better yet, pair it with a Jesse Stone novel by Robert Parker. You'll be running up to Marblehead, Salem and points north for a taste of the real thing!
Lisa_at_OnManorDrive More than 1 year ago
Welcome to small town New England and all that comes with it.......wealth, gossip, and Hildy Good. Hildy is the town real estate broker and knows most of what goes on behind the closed doors of everyone's home, but no one knows what she is hiding behind her own. Follow her as she befriends the newest member of town, falls back in love with the town eccentric, and struggles to realize her own problems. This town becomes your town and the characters your neighbors. You are thrust into the throes of their extramarital affairs, financial struggles, and issues with alcohol. Yet, you still love them all in the end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the first Ann Leary book I have read. It will not be my last. I was doubtful about it at first, but I enjoyed it more and more as I went on. This is such a well written book that it soon had me involved in the story and the characters lives. I was sorry to see it end. Whether you are struggling with an addicfion or mental illness or not, you will enrich yourself by reading this book. Iwill be reading more of Ann Leary soon.
Boppyof5 More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed Leary's last book; the characters were very real, the situations extremely plausible. Small town feel as she explored the different people & their lives. The main character is one you will like, then dislike; she is not lovable, but is real, and anyonie who ever battled alcoholism, or has a loved one who has, will identify with her struggles & reasoning. I really like Ann Leary's style of writing; easy to read, interesting, and most of all, REAL!!!
Atthebeach More than 1 year ago
This was a fun book, an easy read. I enjoyed watching the character, an alcoholic, hide her condition, lie about her drinking, pretend it wasn't so, blame others, and eventually learn a lot about herself because of her alcoholism. I also enjoyed the small town story of this once quiet out of the way town where generations grew up turning into the beach front enclave of the rich and entitled. The main character's role as a long time realtor in the town allowed for insights and gossip and behind the scenes behaviors that were fun to watch. Adultery, emotional illness, the new rich vs. the old locals, love at any cost, suicide, friendship despite difficulty. There are lots of themes wound together via this character and her relationships.It's not too deep, but it was a great beach read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I lived this look at small town drama, fun-to-trouble alcohol use, and real estate adventures in New England. I very much appreciated getting a middle-aged woman's perspective on work, love, family/friends, community ties, drinking, and 'alone-time.' While I am not very interested in all the horse-show details, I would love to see more work from Leary, especially if she adds to the grown-woman genre. Leary is quite talented at weaving together stories from the past in order to flesh out the characters' histories in perfect relevance to and timing with the present narrative.
SKJN More than 1 year ago
I found myself racing through this book because I really cared about what happened to the characters. I think that's where Ann Leary excelled- in character development. I felt the ending was a little abrupt, but all in all I would recommend this book.
Thiltpold More than 1 year ago
This book grabbed a hold of me right from the start. The main character (Hildy) is so complex that she kept me wanting to learn more about her and her disease (or non disease).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was good although a little disorienting to follow the timeline. Jumped around a bit without cause making you struggle to figure out where you were in the story. Overall, good characters and good plot, just pay attention :-)
elbell More than 1 year ago
There are moments in which you laugh out loud, but ultimately it is a sad yet unlifting tale.
Phyllie More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've read in ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I could not put it down had to finish it
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Strolls in. O.e
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