The world is saddened by the untimely demise of Robin Williams, a beloved actor and comedian. I was surprised to learn that he’d been struggling with alcohol addiction. Surprised, because, in my opinion, the man had everything—talent, fame, success, family, money. Then again, alcohol addiction can diminish, and even negate, the value of all that, right?
This tragedy reminded me of Ann Leary’s The Good House that I’ve just read, that explores this very issue—alcoholism. It portrays a 60-year-old woman, pretty successful too, although not a celebrity, who has been struggling with the addiction for decades, but managed to conceal it—also quite successfully—from everybody else, except her children.
Hildy Good lives in a great house and has a good income. But she’s divorced and she drowns her loneliness in wine. She is bitter at her two daughters who confronted her drinking and forced her to check into a rehab. Having completed the program, she continues drinking–secretly. Hildy’s biggest problem is denial of having a problem. A glass or two in the evening? What’s wrong with that? (Isn’t it what all alcoholics say?) The trouble is that she goes down to her little niche in the basement, every night, not for a glass or too, but for a bottle or two. Wine makes her feel content, more or less, and when she befriends a new neighbor, Rebecca, in whom she can finally confide, she doesn’t feel too lonely anymore. Their friendship is not necessarily an ideal one (it has certain strings attached), but it works for a while.
Hildy is well-informed about people in town, because in order to be successful in her field, she “makes it her business to know everybody’s business.” Her very first lines, in fact, show us that she knows what she’s talking about. She starts her narrative with this claim: “I can walk through a house once and know more about its occupants than a psychiatrist could after a year of session. … 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.” (1) And it’s true, as we find out later in the novel. But just how true her bragging that she’s “the top real estate agent in town” is, we find out later, too. After all, we believe everything she says in the beginning, before we learn that she’s quite unreliable as a narrator.
The Good House is both sad and educational, showing how hard the struggle with addiction is. But it’s funny too, thanks to Hildy the narrator with a great sense of humor. I love the way she reveals her own little secrets, as well as interesting details from other people’s lives, piecemeal. She lets slip something new in every chapter, and that surely makes us crave for more information, so we keep turning pages.
Ann Leary is a talented writer. I’m glad I’ve “discovered” her, and I highly recommend her work.