An open and lively life
Log on to author Ann Leary’s blog or Facebook author page and you’ll discover her life is as open and lively as the books she writes. And, if you are lucky enough to see her read in person, as I was at the Princeton Public Library one evening this Spring, you’ll come away feeling as if you personally know this affable, and at once likable writer.
Luckily, I stumbled across the engagement on my twitter feed (Ann is pretty active with social media, promoting her new and third book), so I grabbed a friend, and a pen, and drove an hour south to hear a preview of The Good House, by one of the Nantucket Book festival’s 2013 keynote speakers.
Stylishly outfitted in a mini dress and high-heeled booties boosting her petite frame several inches into the air, Ann entered the room to resounding applause. She ducked her strawberry blond bob and shyly took the podium. As wife of actor /comedian Denis Leary, you would think she would be used to the spot light—all those Oscars and Emmy award shows —but she is instead a bit coy and surprisingly self- depreciating. Her hands fluttered nervously and words tumbled out of her mouth at lightening speed, taking various detours along the way to her point. She is at once charming and funny as shyness melts away and the Lucille O’Ball side of her personality takes over.
By way of introducing her book, the first personal story she shares with her audience is her addiction to on-line real estate web sites.
“I call it Real Estate Porn”, she says. “I find it soothing to fantasize what goes on inside the houses I see for sale. And I am wicked nosy.”
She tells a story about calling a real estate broker to see one such house (one that she and Denis actually wanted to buy) finding it overrun with the leftover debris of lifelong hoarders. Asking a local contractor what he thought had been going on in this particular circumstance; he speculated that the previous owners were likely alcoholics.
“I can walk through a house once and tell you more about the people who live there than a psychiatrist could after a year of sessions,” he claimed.
This single statement stuck with Ann, and eventually became the first line for her novel and the initial thread to the plot of The Good House.
It occurred to me during her presentation that the protagonist of the story, Hildy Good, is an ever so slight composite of Ann. Hildy is a New Englander born and bred (although Ann was fourteen when her family moved from Wisconsin to the New England coast where she and Denis and their two boys still live). Hildy and Ann are both alcoholics in recovery and they are also whip smart, and socially savvy.
Nantucketers will easily recognize the small town central themes in the book surrounding the flawed but sardonic Hildy and her neighbors—winter isolation, a competitive real estate market, well meaning but nosy neighbors, addiction and infidelity. But on the plus side of small town life, Hildy’s tight knit community and near-by family eventually save her from herself.
Ann tugs at the hem of her dress when asked about her own alcoholism. Her animation dims just for a moment.
“The book isn’t necessarily about me, but yes, I drew from my own life experience with loneliness and drinking and (the inevitable) blackouts,” she says quietly, hands resting still on the podium for the first time all evening.
“The interesting take on this story is that it is told from the point of view of an alcoholic in complete denial,” she adds. “ Hildy is a totally unreliable narrator from this perspective, but for the rest of the novel, she is very straightforward. In that way, she is everything I am not—I love to embellish, twist the facts a bit; I’m a true people pleaser. But not Hildy. She is confident, outspoken and blunt.”
And also unlike Hildy, Ann is very funny. She has a comedian’s natural sense of timing and way of relating to a room full of complete strangers on a personal level. I went home and immediately face booked her author page (she immediately thanked me), twittered about my evening in Princeton (she also responded by tweeting me back) and signed a copy of her book to me by including her cell number (her publicist aside) in case I had anything else I wanted to ask her for this article. New pals!
She is instantly likeable.
Ann will be sharing parts of her novel, The Good House, at a breakfast-reading at the Nantucket Yacht Club beginning at 8:30 am on the opening day of the Nantucket Book Festival, Friday, June 21st. Bring a friend, a pen for her autograph and hankie to dab at your tears of laughter. Below is an excerpt of her novel read by actress Mary Beth Hurt, as published in a NantucketChronicle.com book review.
Ryder S. Ziebarth, a freelance writer, was most recently published in the Metropolitan Diary section in the New York Times, Brevity, a flash- nonfiction literary journal, N magazine and NantucketChronicle.com among other publications. Here are her other interviews with Nantucket Book Festival authors Nat Philbrick, Kathryn Kay, Bob Barsanti and Nancy Thayer.