The Washington Post
A Good Hard Lookby Ann Napolitano
Crippled by lupus at twenty-five, celebrated author Flannery O'Connor was forced to leave New York City and return home to Andalusia, her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. Years later, as/b>
In Flannery O'Connor's hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, reckless relationships lead to a tragedy that forever alters the town and the author herself.
Crippled by lupus at twenty-five, celebrated author Flannery O'Connor was forced to leave New York City and return home to Andalusia, her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. Years later, as Flannery is finishing a novel and tending to her menagerie of peacocks, her mother drags her to the wedding of a family friend.
Cookie Himmel embodies every facet of Southern womanhood that Flannery lacks: she is revered for her beauty and grace; she is at the helm of every ladies' organization in town; and she has returned from her time in Manhattan with a rich fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. Melvin has come to Milledgeville to begin a new chapter in his life, but it is not until he meets Flannery that he starts to take a good hard look at the choices he has made. Despite the limitations of her disease, Flannery seems to be more alive than other people, and Melvin is drawn to her like a moth to a candle flame.
Melvin is not the only person in Milledgeville who starts to feel that life is passing him by. Lona Waters, the dutiful wife of a local policeman, is hired by Cookie to help create a perfect home. As Lona spends her days sewing curtains, she is given an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, and she seizes it with both hands.
Heartbreakingly beautiful and inescapably human, these ordinary and extraordinary people chart their own courses through life. In the aftermath of one tragic afternoon, they are all forced to look at themselves and face up to Flannery's observation that "the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
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.'" -The Washington Post
"To brand this a quaint period piece…would be doing Napolitano's evocative tale of friendship and community a disservice." - Entertainment Weekly
"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." - Atlanta Journal
"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." - Jackson Free Press
"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." - Booklist
"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."
"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." - Seattle Times
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.
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sold by:
- Penguin Group
- NOOK Book
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- File size:
- 387 KB
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
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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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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!
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.
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.
The premise was really interesting, but the writing and character's circumstances were too predictable and cliche for me.