A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano
Flannery O’Connor – anyone who has studied American literature knows her name. Born in 1925, she died in 1964 at not quite 40 years of age. Flannery O’Connor wrote two novels and many short stories, she was accepted into the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop in 1946, then lived in New York, making her life as a writer. After being diagnosed with Lupus fifteen years before her death she did not expect to live long enough to complete another novel, and spent the last years of her life exclusively writing short stories. She lived those years with her mother on a farm called Andalusia in Georgia. There she raised peacocks and wrote. Flannery O’Connor was raised and lived as a practicing Roman Catholic – but her faith did not blind her to the lives of others, or her own. Her stories are strong, tough – looking you straight in the eye – funny and tragic, and brilliant.
The new novel A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano is just as funny and tragic as a story by Flannery O’Connor who finds herself a character in this novel, set in her hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia in the last years of her life.
The novel opens with the night before the wedding of Melvin Whiteson and Cookie Himmel – a young couple who found each other in New York City but have come back to Cookie’s hometown to be married and make their home. Melvin is an educated and affluent young man, and Cookie is a darling. Together they attempt to make their marriage work as Cookie throws herself into making Melvin an important man in Milledgeville. Melvin, meanwhile, is floundering and finds himself falling into a friendship with Flannery O’Connor. They are two people missing their lives in New York City, they have sharp minds and speak to each other without hesitation or inhibitions – there is no question of more, that is enough – but it is, in fact, too much. Cookie Himmel hates Flannery O’Connor with a passion – she read Flannery’s book Wise Blood – the ugly words, the ring of truth about the small town that is her home.
When tragedy unfolds one of the characters “could feel the schism between what was and what could have been, and this gap was abysmal, a black hole invisible to everyone but her.” Another acknowledges to herself, “what I deserve, or what you deserve, has nothing to do with anything.”
I read this book on day off at the cottage, ignoring my guests who fortunately were happily reading as well. A Good Hard Look is sure to be on all the book club lists in the coming year, and you’ll all find youselves reading or re-reading the work of Flannery O’Connor.