A Good Hard Look: On Their Way to a Happy Ending

BlogHer Review

I absolutely LOVED A Good Hard Look! I am fascinated by the concept of historical fiction and think that Ann Napolitano did a fabulous job imagining and creating the world of Flannery O’Connor that this novel takes place in. A Good Hard Look is set in the small town of Milledgeville, Georgia, where O’Connor actually lived much of her life with her mother Regina on their farm, known as Andalusia. We are introduced to a variety of characters who reside in Milledgeville from O’Connor’s beautiful, quirky and occasionally very loud pet peacocks, to the many townspeople who she manages to intrigue, inspire, frustrate and anger with her candid “fictional” writing about small town southern life, times and tragedies.

A Good Hard Look is a story about expectations and the people we encounter, as well as the experiences we have, which help to shape our lives. The narrative explores how change, loss, pain, time, hope and grace can lead to breakthroughs and transformation both personally and in our relationships with loved ones, especially those we find it hard to love. It also touches on how we put the pieces of our lives back together when we have experienced a great loss or tragedy -- when we feel we have been broken.

As soon as I finished reading A Good Hard Look, I couldn’t wait to find out more about both Flannery O’Connor and the author Ann Napolitano. I had heard of O’Connor, but knew nothing about her or her writing. Now I want to read some of what she actually wrote that inspired Napolitano to write such an interesting and thought provoking book. I am also interested in reading Napolitano’s other book to see what else she has been moved to write about.

As someone who also loves to write, something I have really embraced in my thirties (where I have been for six years now, close to the age O'Connor was in this story), I could relate to how O'Connor seemed to see her world and why she felt so compelled to write about it. I have been blogging for over four years now (mostly about my five year journey through secondary infertility and loss, as well as parenting since then). As a blogger, I also found myself wondering throughout A Good Hard Look what kind of blogger O'Connor would have been, if weblogs existed in her time and she chose to start one.

I really like the way Ann Napolitano told this story. She didn't spell everything out or insult my intelligence as a reader. Many of the major events and key turning points in the book were first hinted at and then confirmed in subtle ways. So though there was little doubt as to what happened, I appreciated her approach in relaying the plot without having to make it overtly obvious. I read in a Flannery O'Connor about how O’Connor liked to use foreshadowing in her stories and as I already alluded to, I think Napolitano mastered this technique in A Good Hard Look.

I was so impressed with the time and effort that Napolitano put into creating this novel. I read on her website that she spent seven years writing and fine-tuning it. I am curious how much is true about O’Connor and how much the author invented. Either way I found it fascinating. I thought that Napolitano really developed the characters well. No matter how flawed each of them was, I still felt they had redeeming qualities and a chance to live a good life. I find myself still thinking about the residents of Milledgeville, Georgia, that I felt such a strong connection to while reading A Good Hard Look and wondering if those who survived are “on their way to a happy ending.” Thank you Ann Napolitano for introducing me to Flannery O’Connor and for writing this wonderful and thought provoking story!

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