A Good Hard Look

( 11 )


"In A Good Hard Look, Ann Napolitano seems to be channeling as well as portraying the fascinating Flannery O'Connor. With uncanny insight and perception, Napolitano pierces the surface of her characters' lives, laying bare their deepest desires. Small-town life rarely gets this riveting and real. What a superb book." --(Paula McLain, author of THE PARIS WIFE)
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"In A Good Hard Look, Ann Napolitano seems to be channeling as well as portraying the fascinating Flannery O'Connor. With uncanny insight and perception, Napolitano pierces the surface of her characters' lives, laying bare their deepest desires. Small-town life rarely gets this riveting and real. What a superb book." --(Paula McLain, author of THE PARIS WIFE)
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Literary history and fiction gracefully intersect in Ann Napolitano's second novel. (Her first was the well-received 2005 Within Arm's Length.) A Good Hard Look pays tribute to author Flannery O'Connor in both its setting (her hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia) and its title (a sly remake of O'Connor's A Good Man Is Hard to Find). The legendary author also makes appearances in the novel itself, dropping down from history, as it were, to provide commentary on life's stipulations and our choices. At the heart of the fiction is Cookie Himmel, an attractive, socially adept, engaged Southerner who seems the very opposite of the awkward, lupus-crippled author. What transpires from their chance connection is a fateful meditation on the people we become. Perfect for book clubs.

Heller McAlpin
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."
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Napolitano's second novel (after Within Arm's Reach) is a study in the rural milieu of Milledgeville, Ga., whose famous resident is known not only for her writing, but also for keeping peacocks and for other colorful proclivities. Wealthy New Yorker Melvin Whiteson meets Flannery O'Connor at his wedding to the beautiful but insecure Cookie, who has persuaded him to relocate to her hometown. Melvin forms an unlikely friendship with Flannery, and keeps it secret from his wife, who's intimidated by the author. While explaining one of her stories to Melvin, Flannery telegraphs Napolitano's primary theme: "it's possible that the characters are closer to grace at the end of the stories. Grace changes a person, you know. And change is painful." Cookie slowly becomes an integral part of high society by serving on numerous committees and creating an enviable house. She enlists the interior design help of Lona Waters, a lonely seamstress stuck in a lifeless marriage with a police officer, and Lona soon rediscovers her purpose in the arms of a 17-year-old boy, an impetuous act that will have a great impact on a number of Milledgeville residents. Though Napolitano steeps her tale in the Southern gothic made famous by her famous character, she could have used O'Connor's help with her prose. (July)
Library Journal
Napolitano, who did nicely when she debuted with Within Arm's Reach, now tries for something rich and ambitious with a second novel starring Flannery O'Connor. When New Yorker Melvin Whiteson comes to Milledgeville, GA, with his fiancée, the town's reigning Southern belle, he's much taken by O'Connor—she represents the choices he didn't make and the life he could have had. A first look suggests that this is sharp and thoughtfully written; great for book clubs, so be glad that there's a guide.
Kirkus Reviews

Flannery O'Connor fans will be drawn to this fictionalized version of her later years as a strong-willed, deeply lonely genius.

In the early 1960s, when wealthy New Yorker Melvin Whiteson moves to Milledgeville to marry his sweetheart Cookie Himmel, Flannery is living with her mother on the family farm, struggling to complete her second novel and suffering increasingly from the lupus that eventually kills her. A lifelong poultry aficionado, Flannery is also raising peacocks. In the novel's striking first scene, Cookie and Melvin are awakened on the eve of their wedding by the peacocks' din, a foreshadowing of what's to happen to the couple. They love each other but do not understand each other. Emotionally fragile Cookie has considered Flannery her nemesis ever since she readWise Bloodand felt exposed in the worst light as the character Sabbath Lily. A cutting remark Flannery made at Cookie's high-school awards ceremony so humiliated the girl that she left town as soon as she graduated. Sporting her new rich and handsome husband, Cookie has returned desperate to prove to Milledgeville what a glamorous success she has become and throws herself into community activities. Sophisticated but aimless Melvin finds himself at loose ends in the small town. Soon he finds himself drawn to Flannery in a platonic but intense relationship he hides from Cookie. When Cookie has a baby, she and Melvin begin to re-establish their connection, but ultimately Melvin cannot stay away from Flannery. Meanwhile, Cookie has hired the deputy sheriff's wife Lona Waters, another lonely outsider, to make curtains for their new impressive home. Inevitably these unhappy lives—Lona has begun a dangerous relationship of her own—wind together until violent, senseless deaths occur, propelling characters into dark nights of the soul but also the possibility of Flannery O'Connor–like grace.

The tone and careful use of language certainly recalls O'Connor, but Napolitano (Within Arm's Reach, 2004)takes too many shortcuts around her plot and characters to bring the novel to life.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594491705
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/7/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 415,069
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.10 (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 )
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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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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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