A Good Hard Look: A Rippling Tragedy
By Judy Schwartz Haley on August 23, 2011
Flannery O'Connor was not kind to the characters she created for her stories; they were deeply flawed, and in need of redemption. Ann Napolitano does not spare Flannery of those characteristics in her own novel, A Good Hard Look.
It takes a certain level of confidence to fictionalize the last months of a famous American novelist's life. Napolitano handles the challenge with grace; O’Connor could be walking around in one of her own stories. But does she get the one thing she really needs, that all her characters needed? Does she get a little grace, and forgiveness?
A peacock's cry warbles between that of a wet cat, and a tortured baby. A Good Hard Look opens with the strident cacophony of these birds cutting through the hot, humid Georgia night, and setting everyone one edge. Also unsettled were the bride and groom anticipating the following day’s wedding, which would be attended by nearly everyone in town.
The small, southern town of Milledgeville is populated with debutantes, farmers, merchants, civil servants, and laborers. It is dotted with transplants from New York City, and those who wish to run away to New York City. It is also the home of Flannery O'Connor, who wrote stories about Milledgeville, stories that were thinly veiled, unflattering portraits of the town, and its inhabitants. O'Connor is also the owner of the peacocks -- more than 40 of them.
Napolitano is kinder to her characters than O’Connor. They are still flawed, of course, but I couldn't help but love them anyway. I rooted for them, held my breath for them, even as they made the wrong choices.
Milledgeville is knit together by the web of its inhabitants, even the peacocks, each breath and movement tugging the connecting strings. Every life is vital; every action affects everyone else in town. Tragedy ripples through each tendril, shaking connections, severing some. But hope and forgiveness have a ripple effect as well.
I loved this book, and I am now a fan of Ann Napolitano. After reading this book, I will never look at peacocks the same.
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