A Good Hard Look
By Ann Napolitano
Completed February 13, 2012
A Good Hard Look is the fascinating, fictional account of Flannery O’Connor’s last years, settled in her farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. O’Connor suffered from lupus, and she fled home to her family’s farm to write and raise a menagarie of birds, including peacocks. While the reader is treated to a wonderful portrayal of O’Connor, Ann Napolitano creates a moving story featuring other memorable characters: Cookie, the hometown queen who despised Flannery; her husband, Melvin, a New Yorker trying to navigate small town Georgia; Lona, a seamstress who falls in love with a boy more than half her age; and Gigi, Lona’s daughter who pays the price for it all.
While I haven’t read much by Flannery O’Connor (side note: something to be rectified!), the story line of A Good Hard Look reminds me of the stories I have read by O’Connor. Each character makes a decision, knowing the consequences, and as the story evolves, tragedy strikes. The tragedies open up new lives and new decisions for the characters, and you hope they learn from their past and move on to happier times.
A Good Hard Look is divided into two concurrent stories. First, there’s the story of Cookie, Melvin and Flannery. Cookie and Melvin are recently married and settled into Milledgeville. Melvin is a New Yorker at heart, and despite his wife’s wishes, he strikes up a secret friendship with Flannery. For Melvin, Flannery is like the city – spontaneous, honest and forthright. Second, there’s the story of Lona and Joe. Lona is a lonely, pot-smoking seamstress who agrees to take on her friend’s 17-year-old son, Joe, as an assistant. As they spend time together, they become attracted to each other. Their romance culminates until a a fateful afternoon begins a chain reaction of tragedies for their families – as well as the lives of Cookie, Melvin and Flannery.
Expertly written and beautifully rendered, Ann Napolitano draws the reader into the lives of these characters and creates a story of love and loss. Equally important, she sheds light on one of American’s most talented, and perhaps unsung, writers. I highly recommend A Good Hard Look to readers who enjoy literary fiction and stories about the American South.