by Patricia Grandjean
Jan 19, 2013
01:59 PMBox Office
Q&A Exclusive: Ann Leary
(page 2 of 4)
In the press release for the book, you mention being a real-estate junkie.
How did that inform the story?
Well, I did make Hildy Good the narrator, and she is a real estate broker. And she's kind of a holdout; she runs a private company and is losing business. A few years back—the book is set in the present day—she was the top broker in her area. Now her business is being taken away by corporate real estate: The Sothebys, the Coldwell Bankers. And so are the businesses in her town; the local grocer is now owned by Stop & Shop. That's another theme of the book: what's happened in small towns in order to make it convenient for some of the newcomers who move there for the charm. The charm is actually removed from the town.
There are many reasons to have her be a real estate agent. I am fascinated by real estate. We're never really in the market, but I just love to look at real estate sites online. But another reason to make Hildy a real estate agent is because as a narrator, I needed her to be very knowledgable about the people in her town. Hildy is that, for many reasons: One is, as a broker, she says at the beginning of the book, she can walk through a house once and know more about the people than a shrink can tell you in a year of sessions. And that's actually a line I stole from a contractor I know, who I did a walk-through with once. That fascinated me.
It's interesting, because Hildy made me think of Litchfield County's Caroline Klemm.
Yes! But I know Caroline, and anyone who knows her will know this character couldn't be less like her.
I've known quite a few women in my life who have reminded me of Hildy. They're real New Englanders, in the best sense of the word: real Yankees, hard-working, resilient, people who do not necessarily like to be hugged. They have big hearts, they just don't want anyone to know it. That's the way I envisioned Hildy's personality; she and her love interest Frank Getchell are really these wonderful Yankee personalities. And this is something I've found to be true in the towns I've known—these Yankees really care a lot about their communities. They really do care about their neighbors, but they'd die before letting anyone know. If they help other people, they definitely don't want attention for that. They'd rather people think they couldn't be less interested.
But Hildy kind of straddles two worlds, unlike Frank, who has quite a lot of wealth—although people look at him as though he's poor because his house is falling apart and he has all kinds of junk on his lawn—because he owns a ton of waterfront real estate that's become quite valuable; it's been in his family forever. And Hildy, who makes money on real estate, thinks he should sell it; she should sell it for him, and make them both a lot of money. She wants to sell it to these hedge-funders. He doesn't understand that—he has no need for the money but he has need for the land; he likes to fish there. He values things differently than many others; he's actually quite satisfied with what he has. That's what I really liked about him.
Hildy likes to think of herself as unemotional about her past. She doesn't understand when people attach sentiment to a childhood home. She prides herself in not being sentimental that way. That's one thing about Hildy: She's often telling the reader she's a certain way, but my goal as the writer was to have the reader come to understand that sometimes, Hildy might not have the most accurate perceptions of herself. She certainly is when it comes to other people because she's quite intuitive, but she doesn't know herself as well as she should.
Her perceptions of others change based on her drinking, too.
Right. I'm glad you picked up on that; that was definitely deliberate. You know, I have gone public that I am an alcoholic and I have struggled with drinking myself. So I know how your personality changes when you drink. Even social drinkers feel better when they drink. But for Hildy, after one drink she rather likes a person; maybe after two drinks, she really likes them and after three or four she absolutely loves them, and they have to kind of peel her off of them. [laughs] When sober, she's quite judgmental and very defensive, especially around her family and for good reason: Her daughters have staged an intervention for her, when she knew she didn't have a drinking problem. She was quite successful in her career, and everybody, as far as she knew, admired and respected her. So she was blindsided by this intervention, as many people are when their families do this. So she's quite angry and bitter toward them, though she doesn't want them to know that. But when she drinks, she's able to experience her loving feelings for them and everybody else.
It changes so quickly, too: One minute she's talking about Frank Getchell as if he's wonderful youthful lover and the next, she's looking down on him as the garbage man.
That was interesting for me to explore: the way she devalues Frank. She's most harshly critical when she wants a drink and feels that he's in her way. But then she's able to soften toward him with alcohol; that's what it does for her. It fills a void—she's able to understand that to a certain extent. She sees nothing wrong with filling a void. Basically, what she does in the book is drink by herself: She loves what she calls her "party of one." Even if she doesn't remember going to bed, who did she hurt? Nobody.
It's a great, believable portrayal of denial.
I think it's really hard for people who have relationships with people who have drinking problems. It's hard for them to understand the denial. And that was one of the things I wanted to do with this book—to show the mindset of someone in complete denial. Hildy is often confused and angry because she judges herself by her intentions, which are usually good; she really does have a good heart. But others judge her by her actions, and she often doesn't remember what she does when she's drunk. Like all alcoholics and addicts, she's built up this fortress of denial that she doesn't want anyone to break down for her. So she likes to constantly remind herself and her readers how successful she is, and that really the problem is not her, it's her daughters. Or the real estate market . . .
It's even her dogs.
The dogs, yeah. It's funny, because my other two books had no animals in them—though I blog all the time about my animals and I'm a big animal lover. This book is filled with animals. Hildy's dogs were quite fun to write, because they kind of are her drinking buddies, but they also represent these two contrasting aspects of her personality: The little terrier is quite snippy, it bites; and the collie mix is almost too affable, it approaches you with its whole body wagging. Hildy is extremely annoyed by the collie, especially, because the neediness of that kind of dog—she hates that in others. She won't allow herself access to needing to love, or be loved. She sees that as a kind of weakness. So I thought it was interesting to have the dogs be her "familiars," as they used to say about witches' dogs.