A Good Hard Look: Living, Losing, and Letting Go
Having just finished The Help, I was eager to return to the hazy and quiet southern summers of the 1960's, back when one's reputation was determined by the local gossip, and everyone was in everyone else's business. Chock-full of morally-conflicted characters and heart wrenching situations, I found it hard to put this one down until I had gobbled up every word.
At the center of the story is Flannery O'Connor, an American novelist who leaves her bustling life in NYC to return to her family farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, GA after being diagnosed with lupus. The story is punctuated by the antics of the bizarre collection of peacocks and other feathered creatures that reside at the farm. Napolitano weaves together fiction and non-fiction as she combines pieces of O'Connor's real life with the fictional characters of Milledgeville.
One such character, a quiet seamstress named Lona Waters, stayed with me long after I had finished the book. To be honest, I still can't decide if I like the woman, or if I think she is completely stupid. Stuck in a marriage that is stagnant but not terrible, Lona begins to explore other options in her love life, namely an underage boy who works as her assistant. The choices that she makes could potentially derail the lives of her husband, daughter, and the rest of the community of Milledgeville. From one chapter to the next, my opinion of Lona changed. I sympathized with her, I pitied her, and sometimes I wanted to scream at her. We as readers don't hear much of her inner monologue as she is faced with temptation, but what we do hear is selfish and shallow.
A rollercoaster of emotion from start to finish, the story details unimaginable hardships that befall each of the families of the small Georgia town. These poor people just can't catch a break.
Napolitano's own passion for writing is apparent in how she describes the writing practices of Flannery herself. At one point, Ann describes Flannery as she labors over the structure of each and every sentence until it "lashes like a whip." That phrase kept echoing in my mind as I continued to read and appreciated the beautiful way in which Napolitano has crafted this story. While not a light-hearted story to take to the beach, I recommend giving it a try.