Take A Good Hard Look at Your Life

BlogHer Review

I’ve been looking for a book to recommend to my book club and I think I found it. Ann Napolitano's A Good Hard Look delivers with a writing style that lets you breeze through the pages wondering what is going to happen next.

Set in the deep south, A Good Hard Look takes you through the lives of several families and how they become surprisingly intertwined. The book starts and ends with peacocks. How they walk. How they squawk. How bray and fluff their feathers. The peacocks act as a central character that you are always wondering about.

Flannery O’Connor, the famous historical writer, owns the peacocks. She is a main character in this book and you don’t really know if you should like her or not. I can see my book club debating Flannery’s character: Some will defend her crankiness, others will not excuse it.

She is set as a sort of outcast of society after returning from a big life in New York city. Having been diagnosed with lupus (her father died from the disease when she was a teenager) she realizes she needs to be near her mother as her health declines and so she returns to the family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. All Flannery wants to do with her remaining days is to write.

Her nemesis, the seemingly perfect Southern Belle Cookie Himmel, marries Melvin Whiteson, a George-Clooney-good-looking New Yorker whom she convinces to move to her hometown in Milledgeville. Hoping to live the high society life, Cookie pushes Melvin to enter into city politics although Melvin doesn’t seem to have this ambition. As he enters into a secret friendship with Flannery, it’s Flannery who pushes his buttons on his lack of ambition. She calls out Melvin by pointing out that he has everything -- good looks, money, power -- yet he doesn’t do anything with it. “God has given you everything. He’s given you wings, but you’re walking around with the rest of us,” Flannery tells Melvin. This is the quote in the book that can really stick with you and make you think about your own life. Are you flying or just walking around not using your talents?

Another central character is Lona, a lonely wife who smokes pot every day and finds her relationship with her friend’s teenage son is more than she wants to admit. Cookie hires Lona, a seamstress, to do work on her new home -- to make it perfect. She goes to the extreme as to have Lona redo curtains multiple times because each time something just isn’t right. This will get you talking about the importance of, or consequences of, perfection.

Partway through the book I was reading page after page; it was time for dinner. I told my husband that I wanted to read, “just one more page.” It turned out to be THE page that makes you not want to put the book down. A mistake by one leads to the downward spiral of the entire cast of characters. But, who made the mistake?

A Good Hard Look, through the actions (or mis-actions) of its characters, will make you take a good hard look at your own life.

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