|A Good Hard Look|
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 fiancée, 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 truly live, and she seizes it with both hands.
Heartbreakingly beautiful and inescapably human, these ordinary and extraordinary people chart their own courses in 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.
Tattered Cover staff have really fallen for this book. Bill T., in his very first BTC review says:
“Ann Napolitano’s A Good Hard Look starts out with a few diverse incidents establishing the themes which expand throughout this superb biographical novel of one of the South’s greatest fiction writers. The author’s rich imagination is fed by the several generations of her family’s contact with middle Georgia and even with Flannery and her mother, Georgia, which, no doubt, provides the authenticity pervading the book.
Although Flannery O’Connor’s literary and personal history have been well examined, Napolitano shows an exquisite ability to capture the essence of mid-20th century Georgia and the fictional characters that live with Flannery. A true measure of this novel’s believability is when the reader continues to flesh out Flannery’s life after A Good Hard Look is put down, one is drawn to investigate happenings which only occurred in Napolitano’s mind.
Some novelists might have been tempted to emulate Flannery’s Southern Gothic or Grotesque style; Napolitano treads lightly, letting tragedy work where it best fits. She captures both the joys and weaknesses of her characters that parallel Flannery’s belief, expressed throughout her writings and speech: Many times it is difficult to distinguish between blessings and curses.
Flannery wrote that the basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode. A Good Hard Look is an artful novel that is as electrifying as her peacocks and as magnetic as her life.”
And Cathy was a very early champion of this book, saying:
“A Good Hard Look is a brilliant, engaging novel about Flannery O’Connor’s final years and the odd and difficult relationships in her small southern town of Milledgeville that might very well have been models for her wonderful and disturbing fiction. I was moved by it and completely drawn into the characters and their deeply flawed humanity. I will now go back and reread O’Connor, with different eyes and a new appreciation for her gifts and the tragedy of a life cut short. Of course I know it is fiction, but I feel like Ann Napolitano understood and conveyed Flannery’s world and the truths behind her fiction. The novel is a gift to the reader, giving us all a new understanding of Grace.”
A book we’re so excited about, we’ve made it a V.I.B.! That means it’s a true stand-out in a season of many great new books.