A Good Hard Look
A Novel of Flannery O'Connor
By Ann Napolitano
(Penguin Books, Paperback, 9780143121152, 352pp.)
Publication Date: June 26, 2012
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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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”