Of all the villains in modern literature, Daisy Buchanan has always been one I love to hate. As F. Scott Fitzgerald describes her, she’s so insulated from the world and from the consequences of her actions that she has no sense of right and wrong, and there’s no one willing to hold her to account. And that’s when she was surrounded by her social peers. Imagine if she lived in an ordinary place with ordinary people.
Hildy Good is (or was) the top-selling real estate broker in her seaside town. The town has been discovered by Boston’s wealthy, land and house prices have skyrocketed, and the quirky old-time residents are trying to hang on in the face of the invasion. The McAllisters, one of the newcomer families, have profited enormously by Brian’s management of a hedge fund (and other money-making silent partnerships), but they’re regular folks and Hildy is glad to sell them a property and introduce them around the town. She and Rebecca are on their way to becoming friends, sharing the occasional glass of wine and conversation. Rebecca even takes Hildy into her confidence on private family matters.
Problem is, Hildy has recently done a stint in rehab for her drinking, and while the old townies pretend not to know, Hildy doesn’t imbibe in front of them. They remember, even if she doesn’t, the conviviality that turned sour, the caution they used when she got in the car, the reason her valued associate departed for a competitor brokerage. But, while she’s on her best behavior in public, that case of wine in her trunk calls to her every night and she’s answering.
Hildy tries to do the right thing—or at least avoid causing herself trouble, which for some people amounts to the same thing. She’s also on the lookout for the main chance, the big, profitable sale that’s going to put her brokerage back on top. As she travels through the town and interacts with the residents, she provides us with commentary on their quirks and problems in an acerbic and darkly comic voice. But the booze affects her judgment, and we begin to wonder how much of her commentary could be called accurate, and how much is self-protection.
One of her targets is next-door neighbor Frankie Getchell, a one-time boyfriend, and owner of a large and desirable property that Hildy keeps pressing him to sell. Frankie wants to hold on to it, mostly to store the variety of junk equipment he uses in his various jack-of-all-trades businesses. A convenient man to know, Frankie’s the guy to go to if you need your trash picked up, driveway plowed, house painted or remodeled,or stuff delivered. He isn’t socially acceptable, but under the influence of a couple of stiff drinks, Hildy decides he’s just enough to sleep with.
The story keeps coming back to Rebecca, though, and the influence she begins to have on Hildy and on other people in the town. Far from the vulnerable lonely woman she presents to the rest of the town, Rebecca has a cold core that gradually shows through in her treatment of others. Oddly enough, Frank is the first to spot it, but no one, including Hildy, will listen to him. By the time Hildy recognizes the trouble Rebecca’s causing, she’s embroiled in a crisis of her own.
I can imagine comparisons to Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, but The Good House also reminded me of another book I recently read—Tiffany Baker’s The Gilly Salt Sisters. Also set in a New England town, also dealing with the poisonous power of money, the manipulation of others, and long-held secrets coming to the fore, The Gilly Salt Sisters has a small taste of magic not found in The Good House, but I think the two might interest the same readers.
Check the WRL catalog for The Good House