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The Good House    by Ann Leary order for
Good House
by Ann Leary
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Hildy Good has been a successful realtor in her small town of Wendover, Massachusetts for many years. At the age of sixty, she should be a the top seller, and has been up until recently, when she spent a month at Hazelden, a rehabilitation facility for alcoholics, after an intervention staged by her daughters. She blames her month away from her realty business for her present financial problems, and is quite sure that Wendy Heatherton, who was her associate broker and who took care of her clients while she was at Hazelden, took full advantage of Hildy's absence to steal her clients.

Hildy's story begins with Rebecca and Brian McAllister, who had recently bought an expensive estate with her help. Rebecca had grown up on a farm, wanted her sons to have the same experience, and loved horses. While she was showing the home to Rebecca, Hildy was impressed by an incident that occurred with horses in a field on the property. Rebecca came to the assistance of Frank, the caretaker, in separating a large, angry mare from the foal that she had taken away from its mother. The foal and its mother were Welsh ponies, much smaller than the mare, and when Hildy, Rebecca, and Frank arrived at the pasture, the mare and foal were exhausted and in bad shape. Rebecca helped get a halter on the larger horse so Frank could get it away from the foal, and then revived the foal's mother.

'Rebecca ran her small hands all over the foal. She moved her palms under his tail and between his legs, where he was still damp, over his limp testicles and along the bloody umbilicus that lay next to him on the grass like a pale, wet snake. Then she strode back to the mare and held her hands in front of her muzzle for just an instant - I swear it was that quick - and the spell took effect.' The small mare sucked in the smells, opened her eyes, got to her feet, nudged the weak foal, and got him on his feet so that he could nurse.

The plot of the novel involves several romantic involvements, as well as Hildy's attempts to sell various houses. We get acquainted with many of the residents of Hildy's town, most importantly Rebecca; Peter, the psychiatrist who rents an office from Hildy; and Frank, an all purpose fix-it man who owns the local garbage service and takes care of just about anything for his neighbors. Also important to the story is a young couple who have a son with a serious disability, and want Hildy to sell their house so they can move closer to a school where they think their son will receive better care. A lifelong resident of Wendover, Hildy tells us back stories of the people who have lived there all their lives, but she also gives details about people like the McAllisters who are important to the story. Along the way we learn about the present problems of these people, and we also become aware of Hildy's serious drinking problems.

When she first returns home from Hazelden, Hildy attends AA meetings and avoids drinking anything, but one day she accidentally discovers a case of wine in her basement that her daughters neglected to remove. She opens a bottle, drinks some, and then hides the rest of the case in the trunk of an old MG car that her ex-husband has left parked in her garage. Each evening when she returns from work, she retrieves a bottle of wine and drinks some, gradually increasing the amount she imbibes until she is finishing a bottle every night and sometimes returning to the car for another bottle.

As time passes and her life becomes more complicated, she drinks more and more and starts to have blackouts and hallucinations, all the time insisting to herself that she's not an alcoholic. She stops going to AA. Frank tells her that he has seen her driving wildly all over town at night, and she denies this as she has no memory of leaving her house at night. Rebecca, who has become a friend, calls her one morning to see if she's all right after she called the night before, obviously drunk. Hildy has no recollection of that either, and one night she is appalled when she wakes up on the dirt floor of her basement, having passed out the night before.

This is a fascinating study of how the mind of an alcoholic works. Hildy denies to herself and others that she has a drinking problem, lies to cover it up, and finally becomes so confused that it scares her, but she continues drinking. Besides this, the story she tells us about her neighbors and friends is gripping and leads to a conclusion that is exciting enough that one has a hard time reading fast enough to find out what happens. The Good House is a funny play on words, referring to Hildy's own house and life, but sneakily intimating that the houses she sells are also good. A marvelous book and well-worth reading!

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