Ann Leary and I are forever linked by memories of the Blizzard of ’78. Neighbors, our families grew close as we helped each other cope with the historic nor’easter. Now a New York Times bestselling author of a memoir and four novels, Leary has seen her 2013 novel “The Good House” adapted into a film starring Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline.
When “The Good House” was first published in 2013, it reminded many of us of people and places here in town. Ann says more about her characters and the setting in this interview.
Whether or not current residents see themes and scenes in the film that are relatable to Marblehead, they can relate to a member of the supporting cast. Rob Delaney, a 1995 graduate of Marblehead High School, plays the role of Peter Newbold.
Coincidentally, both Ann Leary and Rob Delaney’s mothers still live in Marblehead.
FULLERTON: “The Good House” is filmed in Chester, Nova Scotia, a town that has many of the same traditions as Marblehead: lobstering, sailing, summer activities and long, cold winters. Would you say that Chester, reminded you personally of Marblehead?
LEARY: The producers of the film were very generous and accommodating throughout the development/production of “The Good House” movie. They sent me various drafts of the script and then they flew me up to Nova Scotia to visit the set, which was great fun. I was very surprised by how much the area did resemble certain areas of the North Shore. The people from the area, members of the crew and others, too, reminded me of New Englanders. Similar sense of humor. I don’t think it’s a big sailing town like Marblehead. It was autumn and chilly, and I was just there for one night, so I’m not sure about that.
FULLERTON: Looking back at some articles about “The Good House” written in 2013 in the local media, one account described how your family moved around, how you never felt settled where you lived, and became curious about people who had roots in the community. You were quoted as saying, “The whole townie thing fascinated me. I always wanted to be one.” How would you say the actors in the Good House best grappled with that same issue? Do you think the actors accurately captured someone from our hometown?
LEARY: First, the actors were amazing, and I thought that Sigourney Weaver, especially, captured the character of Hildy Good spectacularly well. The characters in my book were influenced by many people I’ve known, but mostly by people who lived in the small town in northwestern Connecticut where we raised our children. I lived there longer than I’ve lived anywhere, and though it’s a different part of New England, there were people who had lived there for generations and shared some of the qualities I’ve admired in genuine New Englanders.
When I said that I envied “townies,” I meant that when I was young, I envied a sense of belonging that I presumed (and I know now, wrongly so) came with being “of” a place. Sort of like being born into a tribe, rather than trying to join one.
Nobody in the book or movie was based on anybody I knew in real life, so I can’t say that anybody in the film reminded me of a certain Marbleheader. I’ve had people in Marblehead tell me that they think the character of Frank was based on somebody you and I know from high school and, in fact, I didn’t have that person in mind at all.
In many book events I did in the northeastern U.S., people asked me if I somehow knew a man in their town that they all thought Frank’s character was based on because that exact guy lived in their town. I was pleased to learn that there’s a Frank Getchell in so many New England towns.
The man that most influenced him was, again, from the area we lived when I was writing the book. When people from that area asked me if it was him, though, I usually said, no, he’s based on a guy in Marblehead. So, never trust a fiction writer.
I can honestly say that Hildy was not based on any one person. She was informed by a number of women I’ve known and also by my own life experiences.
FULLERTON: I am sure it is a challenge for any writer to see their novel on film, but how do you feel they did. In particular, and as always, it is difficult to capture the New England way of speaking and mannerisms. Did any of the actors visit Marblehead or the North Shore before filming?
LEARY: HAHAHA, yes, the untouchable Massachusetts accent. Why is it so hard? Rob Delaney, who played Peter, the psychiatrist, is actually from Marblehead. Or, at least, that’s what I’ve been told. What a great guy. I only met him briefly, years ago. And one of the early screenwriters visited the North Shore for a few days. Otherwise, I’m not sure if any of the actors who played the main characters have visited the North Shore. One of the actors who played a smaller role, Chris Zito, was an old comedian friend of ours from Boston, and he had a genuine accent.
FULLERTON: In one of the last quotes in your interview with the local newspaper in 2013, you said “I really like Hildy. There’s so much to like.” Do you think the movie has changed the character of Hildy in any way? Do you still like her or do you recognize her at all? Was she perfectly cast?
LEARY: I was surprised at how much I loved Sigourney’s portrayal of Hildy. I think she really did understand the character, and it’s hard now to imagine any other actress playing the part.
It was a tricky book for the screenwriters to adapt, mainly because so much of the story involves Hildy’s inner life – the reader is very much in her head. I did have her do a sort of literary version of breaking the fourth wall, by addressing the reader at various points, and I think it worked in the movie.
It’s a love story – it’s about the relationship between Hildy and Frank, but it’s also about the relationship between Hildy and the truth. It’s told from the point of view of a woman in denial, so I think that’s easier done in a book and was very pleased with how they managed to make that work cinematically.
FULLERTON: Marblehead has grown and changed since the 1970s when we were growing up here. But to this day, it is not an easy place to “move into,” and people still feel like unless they were born here, it is hard to feel they belong. Does this topic or feeling still feature in your work? And, as someone who did grow up here and has written about this town, are there any things that you miss about the town now that you live farther away.
LEARY: I can’t believe how much it has changed. I remember, probably about 20 years ago now, hearing that there was a nail salon in Marblehead, and I was pretty shocked. I tried to imagine the women we knew when I lived there (like our own mothers and our friends’ mothers) actually getting their nails done at a salon. I moved there when I was 14, so I didn’t grow up there, but I did go from being a child to an adult there very quickly, when I think back on it now.
There are so many special things I remember about spending my teens in Marblehead. Really fun, wild memories. Devereux Beach, Mino’s, Seaside Park, Gatchell’s Pit, Brown’s Island, Misery Island, Crocker Park. There was a place we used to swim and water ski in Salem Harbor called “Lead Mills.” People my age know what fun things we were doing in those places. Besides getting lead poisoning. We were so free.
I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was over 18. We rode our bikes everywhere. When we moved to Marblehead, I’d never heard of a lime rickey, didn’t know what a frappe was, had never heard people say “wicked” or “the balls” or so many terms that I immediately adopted. I still sometime say something is “wicked good” (I haven’t said something is “the balls” in decades, but I may start!)
When I visit my mother in Marblehead, I love smelling the harbor as soon as I get out of my car. But the thing I love most is hearing the great North Shore accent that I miss quite a lot. Any Massachusetts accent makes me feel very nostalgic when I hear it, especially when I’m not in Massachusetts.