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A Good Hard Look: A Novel of Flannery O'Connor

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Overview

Forced by illness to leave behind a successful life as a writer in New York, Flannery O’Connor has returned to her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. She desires a quiet, solitary existence, but her mother, Regina, drags Flannery to the wedding of a family friend.

The embodiment of southern womanhood, Cookie Himmel is Flannery’s antithesis and has returned from her time in Manhattan to marry rich fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. Lona Waters, a dutiful housewife, is hired by Cookie ...

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A Good Hard Look

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Overview

Forced by illness to leave behind a successful life as a writer in New York, Flannery O’Connor has returned to her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. She desires a quiet, solitary existence, but her mother, Regina, drags Flannery to the wedding of a family friend.

The embodiment of southern womanhood, Cookie Himmel is Flannery’s antithesis and has returned from her time in Manhattan to marry rich fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. Lona Waters, a dutiful housewife, is hired by Cookie to help create a perfect home, but when she is given an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, and she seizes it with both hands.

In the course of one tragic afternoon, these characters must take a good hard look at the choices they have made and face up to O’Connor’s observation that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
“Napolitano’s protagonist is a marvelously outspoken, uncompromising force who becomes the impetus for several fictional Milledgeville residents to reassess and radically alter their lives…[Napolitano] has spun an absorbing, old-fashioned tale about how, as in Flannery O’Connor’s stories, ‘Grace changes a person….And change is painful.’”
O Magazine
“In A Good Hard Look, Ann Napolitano creates a fictional version of the life of the acclaimed southern writer that is as vibrantly colorful as the peacocks raised on the O’Connor family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia…Napolitano makes no attempt to mimic O’Connor’s singular style, but she does succeed in creating a wholly believable world shaped by duty, small pleasures, and fateful choices.”
Entertainment Weekly
“To brand this a quaint period piece…would be doing Napolitano’s evocative tale of friendship and community a disservice.”
Seattle Times
“Ann Napolitano’s second novel, A Good Hard Look, is haunted by those peacocks and by O’Connor herself. Though Napolitano doesn’t try to write like O’Connor — her gentle, quietly elegant prose is worlds away from the powerful, often devastatingly harsh Southern Gothic world in which O’Connor dwelled — her book nonetheless emerges as a graceful tribute, not only to a writer, but to a time and place.”
Denver Post
“Napolitano doesn’t attempt to mimic Flannery O’Connor’s writing style, turning instead to her own lyric take on the human condition. She’s not written a biography of Flannery, though the character is well rooted in research….While [Flannery's] interaction is key to the story, she is a catalyst. One cannot imagine the novel without her, but she is just one in a cast of fully fleshed- out and entrancing characters.”
Atlanta Journal
“Ann Napolitano’s novel, A Good Hard Look, with O’Connor occupying a central role, does the Georgia author proud. Be prepared to like this book. It’s complicated and peacock-haunted and strange…’ Does one’s integrity ever lie in what he’s unable to do?’ O’Connor once asked. At the heart of Napolitano’s brave book lies that question: the mysteries of freedom, its price, and the unmarked paths we take to get there.”
Booklist
“The fact that an at-her-prime, seriously ill Flannery O’Connor is one of its main characters, while it might have overwhelmed a lesser novel, doesn’t drown this one; Napolitano doesn’t seek to emulate O’Connor’s style (other than by being, also, pointedly southern), but crafts, though characters (stunt-cast or no) her own powerful argument for living honestly…muggy, deeply enthralling, and worth a read.”
Jackson Free Press
“From almost the first page, this novel seemed real. I could feel, somehow, the characters’ seemingly pre-ordained retreat from grace as a deceptively simple plot unfolded in Milledgeville, Ga., where O’Connor returned to live out her final days in the early 1950s…. This narrative is a great story, almost light at times, often very funny—but always with the knowledge that this propped-up happiness too shall end…. there will be survivors, and they will find a touch more grace in their lives. What is less obvious is that Napolitano will somehow make you one of those survivors thinking about your own rocky road to redemption.”
Entertainment Weekly

“To brand this a quaint period piece…would be doing Napolitano’s evocative tale of friendship and community a disservice.”

Atlanta Journal

“Ann Napolitano’s novel, A Good Hard Look, with O’Connor occupying a central role, does the Georgia author proud. Be prepared to like this book. It’s complicated and peacock-haunted and strange…’ Does one’s integrity ever lie in what he’s unable to do?’ O’Connor once asked. At the heart of Napolitano’s brave book lies that question: the mysteries of freedom, its price, and the unmarked paths we take to get there.”

Booklist

“The fact that an at-her-prime, seriously ill Flannery O’Connor is one of its main characters, while it might have overwhelmed a lesser novel, doesn’t drown this one; Napolitano doesn’t seek to emulate O’Connor’s style (other than by being, also, pointedly southern), but crafts, though characters (stunt-cast or no) her own powerful argument for living honestly…muggy, deeply enthralling, and worth a read.”

The Washington Post

“Napolitano’s protagonist is a marvelously outspoken, uncompromising force who becomes the impetus for several fictional Milledgeville residents to reassess and radically alter their lives…[Napolitano] has spun an absorbing, old-fashioned tale about how, as in Flannery O’Connor’s stories, ‘Grace changes a person….And change is painful.’”

Denver Post

“Napolitano doesn’t attempt to mimic Flannery O’Connor’s writing style, turning instead to her own lyric take on the human condition. She’s not written a biography of Flannery, though the character is well rooted in research….While [Flannery's] interaction is key to the story, she is a catalyst. One cannot imagine the novel without her, but she is just one in a cast of fully fleshed- out and entrancing characters.”

Seattle Times

“Ann Napolitano’s second novel, A Good Hard Look, is haunted by those peacocks and by O’Connor herself. Though Napolitano doesn’t try to write like O’Connor — her gentle, quietly elegant prose is worlds away from the powerful, often devastatingly harsh Southern Gothic world in which O’Connor dwelled — her book nonetheless emerges as a graceful tribute, not only to a writer, but to a time and place.”

O Magazine

“In A Good Hard Look, Ann Napolitano creates a fictional version of the life of the acclaimed southern writer that is as vibrantly colorful as the peacocks raised on the O’Connor family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia…Napolitano makes no attempt to mimic O’Connor’s singular style, but she does succeed in creating a wholly believable world shaped by duty, small pleasures, and fateful choices.”

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143121152
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/26/2012
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 412,352
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Ann Napolitano is the author of the novel Within Arm's Reach. She is a graduate of Connecticut College and received her MFA from New York University. She lives in New York City with her family.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 11, 2011

    MUST read for the summer!

    I picked up A Good Hard Look a few days ago and I was not able to put it down all weekend.

    I was immediately drawn into Napolitano's beautifully crafted world of characters orbiting around Flannery O'Connor.

    The book takes you on the characters journey -- their pain, growth, realizations and actions that all start to change the course of their lives and those around them.

    It's hard not to see yourself in the characters and imagine what might be possible in your own life if you do take a good hard, honest look at the way you live.

    Not the mention, the writing is simple and gorgeous. You can tell that Napolitano wanted each word to count. And they do!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A Masterful Portrayal

    The local celebrity in Milledgeville, Georgia, is Flannery O’Connor. Raised in the town, Flannery moved to New York to pursue a writing career. She is making headway when she receives the same diagnosis of lupus that killed her father. Flannery’s disease moves quickly and at the age of twenty-five, she is back home in Milledgeville at the family farm, Andalusia. She spends her time writing and raising peacocks; the fierce, proud birds touching a chord in her. She is the local star, yet feared by many of the town for her ability to see through the artifice with which most of us surround our lives. As O’Connor was known to say: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
    While Flannery is the most famous inhabitant, she is not necessarily the most influential. That would be the power couple of Cookie and Melvin Whiteson. Cookie grew up in town, the ‘it’ girl who was the most popular in high school and who won all the trophies and prizes. She went North after school and returned with Melvin, an extremely wealthy man who wants to marry her. Their wedding is the year’s most talked about event, and also the place where Melvin and Flannery meet. They strike up a friendship that Cookie is unaware of and would never approve of. Cookie spends her time organizing everything worth organizing in town and is recognized as the woman who makes things happen.

    Lona Waters is as far in character from Cookie as it is possible to be. Lona has drifted through life, married to Bill Waters, an ambitious policeman. She has a drapery business and spends her time making window treatments for the wealthy of the town. Yet, Cookie, Flannery and Lona all are brought together in an afternoon of tragedy. Afterwards, none of the women or the men in their lives are the same.

    Ann Napolitano has created a masterful portrayal of Southern life and more, the portrayal of how most of us move through life, living it but never really experiencing it to the fullest. The characters are compellingly drawn, while the tragedy that defines the book is foreshadowed in such a way that when it occurs, it seems inevitable. Yet, the characters and their lives also have hope, leaving the reader shaken and better for having read it. This book is highly recommended for all readers; a powerful novel that redefines how individuals can face life and its hardships.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 30, 2012

    I really enjoyed this book--it was a literary, can't-put-it-down

    I really enjoyed this book--it was a literary, can't-put-it-down, beautiful work. I was first drawn to it by my passion for O'Connor's works. I've read Gooch's biography of her, and some of O'Connor's letters, and I've also walked through O'Connor's Savannah home on a personal tour that was unforgettable, imprinting the young Flannery on my mind forever. So with this background, I probably would be a severe critic if this work did not measure up. Napolitano captured Flannery. The most powerful passages are those when Napolitano describes O'Connor's writing process--those seem straight from heaven, almost as if Flannery approved them. Napolitano got inside the writer's mind and spoke truth about the pain of artistic birth and finding the right words. I also enjoyed the other characters, their arcs, and the violence that plagued each of them--very O'Connor, very honest, very believable despite the outrageous moments (like O'Connor's work--the events seemed logical, grace and sin-filled consequence, where all fall short and yet are still bathed in holy light).

    My only critiques are the stilted nature of O'Connor and Whiteson's interactions (I didn't quite believe their attraction to one another, when they were together) and some of the cliched similes. Many comparisons were brilliant. These are minor issues, the only reason I didn't give it 5 stars.

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  • Posted January 26, 2012

    Somewhat Disappointed

    The premise was really interesting, but the writing and character's circumstances were too predictable and cliche for me.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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