A Good Hard Look: Flannery O'Connor, Choices and Consequences
Sometimes when you read a book, you carry the weight of it around with you. It's not the physical weight of the book, but the contents. I read Ann Napolitano's A Good Hard Look in big chunks and marveled at her ability to create characters with presence and form. They have depth and weight. I carried the weight if her characters with me.
Novels with fictionalized versions of real people in them haven't always worked for me. Over the last few years, I've felt my acceptance of them growing, though I couldn't put my finger on why. It was another BlogHer Book Club author, William Deresiewicz and his memoir, A Jane Austen Education, that gave that feeling of acceptance form with words.
Historical figures, like Jane Austen and Flannery O'Connor, they belong to all of us. The people that they were in life are not necessarily the people we think we know. The Flannery O'Connor in this book may not be the Flannery O'Connor that existed in the 1960s. She may not be the Flannery O'Connor that lives in your head ... or your heart. But I have no doubt that the Flannery O'Connor in this novel was real to Ann Napolitano. I know this because her Flannery, and her other characters, lept off the page in took up residence in my house.
Cookie wandered through my house making organizational to do lists. Lona had me re-examining the notion of curtains in general. Miss Mary was in my kitchen making something sweet and sugary. And Flannery? Flannery is in my favorite place -- on the deck in the backyard where when the sound is just right, you can look at the trees and forget there's anyone nearby. I can't offer her a typewriter, but I think that maybe she might enjoy the laptop as long as I shut off the distractions like the Internet first.
The men? I didn't feel their presence the same way, perhaps because that it true to their characters. Joe wasn't present at home. Bill wasn't present at home. Melvin? He wasn't present in his life -- it's hard to imagine him present in mine.
A Good Hard Look is a book that, when looking at the table of contents, you know is going to have An Event. Rather than a beginning, middle and end it has a before, during and after -- or in this case a Good, a Hard and a Look. You feel the Good build and build and build and you hold your breath until the Hard come crashing down. After the Hard you need to Look. What's left? What can you do in the after?
You remember what Flannery told those high school students so many years ago: "Take a good hard look at who you are and what you have and then use it."