A Good Hard Look: Worth Reading for the Peacocks

BlogHer Review

Confession time: when I signed up to review Ann Napolitano'sA Good Hard Look, I didn’t recognize the name Flannery O’Connor.  What stuck out to me, and the reason why I wanted to read the book, was that the book is set in Milledgeville, GA, where I have family and, at one point, considered going to college.  I’m a sucker for anything Southern so this book seemed like a natural fit for me. 

Something about the name Flannery O'Connor sounded familiar and upon using my trusty librarian skills (also known as Google) I realized that I did in fact know who Flannery O’Connor was and had even attempted to read one of her short stories way back when.  Me not particularly caring for her writing may have had something to do with why I didn’t especially love this book.

This is one of those books that I didn’t hate, but didn’t really love.  I didn’t get a feeling of accomplishment or joy when I finished reading it (not that I expected joy given the subject matter), but I finished it and read it quickly, which says a lot considering I am the type of person who avoids or doesn’t finish things (including books) that I don’t like.

What exactly didn’t I like about the book?  First, I found the book to be rather predictable on two levels.  Literary fiction can take many different paths, but I found this book to a rather formulaic path.  Characters are introduced, there is some minor conflict, some major conflict, the consequences of that conflict, and then an ending and a resolution of some sorts.  Not that the book could have been written in any other way, but I did find it just a little more 1+1=2 than I would have preferred. 

The other way I found A Good Hard Look to be predictable was that, due to the path the writer chose to take, I knew what was coming.  I identified the tragedy mentioned in the description long before it happened and I was almost exactly right in deciding how the book would end.  I dislike knowing what’s coming, unless it’s a romance novel where I take comfort in the big-misunderstanding-leads-to-awesome-declaration-of-love-in-the-last-five-pages.

The second thing I wasn’t a fan of was the way Flannery’s religion was addressed.  Having done a little bit of research on Flannery O'Connor, her works, and her life, I came to view her as a deeply religious person.  She wrote many articles on theology and Catholicism and her novels and stories always contain a nugget of faith. 

(Slight spoiler ahead! Proceed with caution!)

Due to the tragedy I mentioned above and her situation in life, Flannery questions her own faith.  Perhaps I’m wrong in thinking that the real Flannery O’Connor didn’t do this or am not giving enough credit to the fact that A Good Hard Look is a work of fiction, but this section rubbed me the wrong way.  While a fatal illness and a life-shaking event is enough to shake anyone’s faith, I just didn’t see it in the real person I had come to know through the little research I did.  Had I not done the research before reading the book, this probably wouldn’t have bothered me, but I did and it did.  So take that with a grain of salt.  :) 

Despite these complaints, I did like this book.  The peacocks alone are worth reading the book.  The way Ms. Napolitano describes them, both good and bad, really brought them to life for me.  I could see them, in all their regal beauty, in my head and I admire the author for her ability to bring such images.  I had a hard time understanding why anyone would want to own peacocks, but after reading this novel, I sort of see the appeal.  One peacock in particular is given such personality that I almost expected him to start talking.  

Although I found the book to be predicable, I thoroughly enjoyed the ending, which was vague enough that it allowed me to consider the different ways the characters lives would continue.  I don’t usually enjoy books that make me think (as I spend my days doing other people’s thinking for them), but I appreciated this opportunity.  Perhaps I was supposed to think about taking a good hard look at my own life, but instead, I chose to think about what the characters would do now that they had taken a good hard look at themselves. 

If I had to assign this book a letter grade, I would probably give it a B-.  It was above average, but not extraordinary.  There were definitely parts of it I didn’t care for, and parts I enjoyed.  It was well written and the characters were well-drawn (for the most part), but this is not a book that will stick with me nor will it land a coveted spot on my keeper shelf.  But it is a decent work of literature, and anyone who is at all interested in Flannery O’Connor or how people react differently to tragedy will get something out of this book.  

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