A Good Hard Look Challenges You To Do Just That
There are times where people have said that I look at life through rose-colored glasses; I consider myself to be more of a realist. I've survived some pretty tough stuff and I see people and life with a balance for the good and the bad. Flannery O'Connor from Ann Napolitano's A Good Hard Look seems to be the same way. She has realized that reality is a coexistence of the good and the bad; it isn't one or the other. She accepts this.
In A Good Hard Look, Flannery O'Connor is a successful middle-aged author with a disease that she knows will eventually kill her, just as it killed her father. She is one of the main characters of this novel, yet the book isn't really about her at all. As Ms. Napolitano states on her website, the book is really about a "well-lived life." The novel is about taking a good hard look at your life and seeing it for what it is; it's about knowing what things are your bad things, and working hard to overcome them. It's about living fully, working hard, and doing the right thing.
Ms. Napolitano demonstrates through words the different possible lives one could live. Cookie Whiteson is industrious, but she is shallow. Melvin Whiteson, her husband, has deep waters but doesn't live his life; he just floats through. Regina dotes on her daughter to excess; Miss Mary dotes on someone else's. Lona never feels fulfilled even though she works hard; Bill works hard but neglects the people close to him. No life, except Flannery's, could be called well-lived and even Flannery, of the oh-so-sharp opinions, near the end doesn't look kindly upon her own. Each person has their flaws on display in a sharp observation of life, instead of the fictionalized optimistic and ultimately one-sided view of so many novels. There’s only one hero here and she’d never call herself that.
Ms. Napolitano explains on her personal website that Flannery O’Connor, as depicted, is a semi-fictional character. While there was a true Flannery O'Connor who lived from 1925 to 1964, loved peacocks, wrote stories, had lupus, and lived on a farm in Andalusia, Ms. Napolitano states on her website, "I know the facts about her, and I know the internal life I created for her." Despite the uncertainty inherent in describing someone else's thoughts and life, it was fascinating to see Ms. Napolitano's interpretation of Flannery O'Connor.
If you’re looking for a clear-cut happy ending, you aren’t going to find it here. What you will find, though, is a thoughtful and intense novel that will challenge you on how you live your life and how you view yourself. In my opinion, that is much better.
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