For as avid of a reader and podcast listener as I am, I don’t listen to books very often. Audio books are hard for me to get into because I tend to listen and do at the same time, be it commuting, traveling, or working out (yes, I listen to podcasts while I run. Go ahead and giggle). And if something else grabs my attention, be it a neighborhood dog lunging for my apparently delicious tennis shoes or an announcement of a train delay, I can’t just trace back to where I was in an audio book like I can on paper.
However, when Macmillan Audio contacted me about the audio release of Ann Leary’s The Good House, I accepted their offer of a review copy. I did not regret it.
Leary’s novel about a middle-aged New England real estate professional is a darkly funny yet touching portrait of a woman and her community. Hildy Good is an alcoholic who is (sort of) in recovery, dealing with a slow business year and her fair share of interpersonal relationship problems. Her inner monologue skewers everything from townie weirdness to politically-correct educational methods to East Coast WASPiness with a wry sense of humor. Yet Hildy’s own vulnerabilities keep her brash observations from taking over the story. And as the novel delves into the literary worlds of mysteries and thrillers later in the story, Hildy’s voice is a constant–if unreliable–witness.
For how down-to-earth and practical Hildy is, she has a whimsical side. The undercurrent reference to her persecuted female predecessors, whether they are victims in the Salem witch trials or her misunderstood bipolar mother, puts an interesting twist on Hildy’s “mind reading” parlor tricks and her perceived second-class status as a recovering alcoholic.
The little details of the life of a real estate agent are sprinkled so expertly through the book that I actually had to check with Macmillan to make sure that Leary hadn’t left a stint in real estate out of her biography. In reality, Leary came up with the idea for the story from a real estate professional who could figure out intimate details of a person just by walking through their home. From misplaced transaction documents to messy showings to Hildy literally dreaming of houses when she sleeps, the vocation choice comes off as both natural and much more than just an afterthought. The author, married to comedian and actor Denis Leary, may not have personally been in real estate, but she clearly understands the calling.
Back to the medium itself, let’s talk audio. Mary Beth Hurt’s reading brought out the humor in Leary’s prose. If you want to hear for yourself, you can listen to this excerpt from The Good House here. Hurt portrays the voices of children, men and women in a clearly differentiated way without overplaying it. There were a few moments her interpretation of Hildy seemed somehow older, or more crotchety than Leary intended, but overall, Hurt’s reading was a very engaging way to absorb this novel.
Whether you indulge in the audio, hardback, or digital version of this book, I recommend you pick it up. Leary chose an unlikely heroine to be the unreliable narrator of this story about love, loss, family and community, but she also shows how real estate agents are so entwined with almost every little occurrence in a small town. Of course, it wouldn’t be realistic without a little competition. But Hildy Good is unquestionably the heart of the community within which she works and lives.