A Good Hard Look: Consider the Peacocks
Sometimes the truth is ugly. American author Flannery O'Connor looks at the ugly inside the people of her small town of Milledgeville, and is in turn used as a character in Ann Napolitano's piece of fiction about her home town and the people who dwell in it. Those who seem to have everything in A Good Hard Look lead lives so dull and uninteresting, that they have to punctuate it with affairs, ambition, and lies. Scratch the surface and the veneer falls away, showing the rot beneath.
The characters are people we know and envy from our own lives: the homecoming queen, the successful business man, the reclusive writer. But we get to take a good hard look at their lives, just as they're being forced by a series of tragedies brought about by their dishonesty to look at themselves as their lives crumble.
Like the real-life O'Connor, Napolitano uses peacocks in the story as a metaphor for apparent beauty and power. She begins the book with the peacocks, in an unfortunately unrealistic description that you'd probably have to be very familiar with the birds to detect, but which set a tone of denial for me which colored the rest of the book. The peacocks themselves are beautiful, go their own way, and have some unpleasantness about them that reflects the individuals around them. It's the peacocks that drive the story, both in their actions which lead to the first sullying of the O'Connor's imagined nemesis in the story and her final downfall.
Hometown Sweetheart Cookie Himmel marries successful businessman Melvin Whiteson, and instead of happily ever after we're treated to their fears, insecurities and betrayals as we watch the same happening in the small seemingly ideal town around them. The indiscretions of the town-folk seem commonplace and even trivial at times, far out of proportion to the suffering they bring about. A Good Hard Look is a study in extremes, in cause and effect, and in the power and consequences of lying, not merely to each other, but to ourselves.