A Good Hard Look Is a Nice, Easy Read
After reading three or four dark, depressing, serious books (including the Diary of Anne Frank) in a row, A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano felt like a breath of fresh air. The easy-to-read style and intertwining-storyline structure reminded me a bit of Maeve Binchy, although the characters aren't quite as likeable. If A Good Hard Look gets picked up by a talented screenwriter, I could see this being turned into a movie.
A Good Hard Look is set in Flannery O'Connor's hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, in the 1960s. It follows the story of three women whose lives are vastly different but intertwined by the backdrop of screaming peacocks and life-altering events. Cookie Himmell, the southern belle, returns to Milledgeville with her fiance, Melvin, a wealthy New Yorker. Cookie longs to be a big fish in a small pond, while her husband struggles to adjust to small-town life. Much to Cookie's chagrin, Melvin strikes up a friendship with Flannery, whom, for reasons that are never completely clear, is Cookie's enemy. Cookie tries to ban Flannery's books from the library and is paranoid that she has been negatively portrayed as a character on the page. The third major character is Lona Walters, the pot-smoking wife of a local policeman whom Cookie hires to design curtains for her glamorous home.
While Napolitano does a good job making the characters likable despite their immense flaws, I never felt completely connected to them. I enjoyed reading the book and it kept me engaged, but I didn't feel like the characters really came to life on the page. Of the three major characters, Flannery O'Connor is the most interesting. Crippled by lupus, she is forced to return home to her farm in Milledgeville. Before meeting Melvin, she feels alienated from the rest of the townspeople and surrounds herself with a flock of peacocks that wreak havoc on the town. Lona, the desperate housewife, captured my sympathy for a while, but ultimately proves selfish as she neglects her own child.
Overall, I felt that A Good Hard Look was well-written and had a lot of potential but it never delves quite far enough under the surface of the typical multi-character melodrama. It's entertaining but didn't blow me away.