Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Good Hard Look; Ann Napolitano

Title: A Good Hard Look
Author: Ann Napolitano
Publication Year: 2011
Publisher: Penguin
Edition: ARC
Source: Amazon Vine
Location: Georgia
Date Completed: 8/14/2011 
Rating: 5/5
Recommend: yes - Don't Miss it!

A Good Hard Look is an amazing story that just might be my favorite book of 2011.  The novel is a work of fiction, with author Flannery O'Connor as a main character during the last few years of her life.  A life cut short at 39, from complication of Lupus.

The story opens in the 1960's, to the sounds of many screeching peacocks, which belonged to Flannery O'Connor.  The author lives with her mother Regina on their farm Andalusia - Milledgeville, Georgia.  It is the evening before the wedding of Cookie Himmel, a southern belle, and Melvin Whiteson, a wealthy New Yorker.  The two met in New York, Melvin  had recently lost his parents, and Cookie was never comfortable in the big city. In fact, Melvin was the only person who ever noticed her she claimed. The couple moving to Georgia, Cookie's hometown.  The night before the wedding, and they are staying at Cookie's parent's home are they, along with most of the townspeople, are awakened in the middle of the night to the screaming peacocks.  The peacocks are a foreshadowing of the bad things to come for some of the people in the novel.

 "Flannery spent her afternoons motionless in her porch chair, watching the peacocks stalk the lawn. The birds soothed her; their bright colors and disdainful expressions were precisely what she wished to see.  Flannery held her breath when a peacock opened his feathers into a blistering rainbow. She exhaled only when he shut it back down.  A fierce blue fan was revealed, then an auburn one.  The long feathers were decorated with moons and suns and peering eyes.  These displays were more frequent than usual.  The birds were generous with Flannery, seeming to sense her need for beauty.  She dreamed about the night --they crowed and bullied and flaunted their coats across her consciousness."

Flannery and Cookie grew up together, their mothers were friends. Cookie is not fond of Flannery ever since Flannery made one of her Wise Blood characters out to resemble her.  After the wedding, while Cookie keeps her distance from Flannery, and busies herself with ladies groups and community events, Melvin stops over at Flannery and Regina's house to pick up a wedding gift (she offers them a peacock). He begins to find her intriguing.  Although Flannery is pretty ill at this point and sometimes has difficultly walking, she is determined and focused on the writing of her second novel. Melvin notices she seems to enjoy life more than anyone he has met. So very different from his wife Cookie, he finds reason to spend time with her, like teaching her to drive. Although the friendship is innocent, he keeps his visits secret from his wife, and when Cookie becomes pregnant, he tries to work on his relationship with his wife.

I loved the contrast between Cook and Flannery. Flannery is so open, blunt and honest, and very matter of fact -- "she is who she is". She tells Melvin that he is wasting his life and needs to learn how to live, and not just pass the hours each day.  Cookie, is all about outward appearances, and as a result she feels very insecure around Flannery who she thinks is judging her.  There are a few terrible things that happen is this novel, and this is where the title: A Good Hard Look, seems just perfect.  It is at these times of crisis that each of the characters involved, (and there are a few more I haven't mentioned), must take " a good hard look" at what and why something sad has happened to them or a loved one. Each must search their souls to decide what is really important in life.

The author did a fantastic job of creating memorable characters and giving the reader a feel for what small town life is like --a place where everyone seems to know everything about everyone, and where secrets don't stay secrets forever.  As a reader, I was able to feel empathy for the situations that occurred as a result of choices people made.  The writing is beautiful, the novel is heartbreaking at times, but the characters are so very human. This book is a keeper - Highly recommended.

28 comments:

  1. Okay, I'm sold. I'm putting it on my list right now.

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  2. I am just finishing this one up this morning...I am waiting until I'm done to read your review. However, I did check to see that you gave it 5/5---right now I would definitely agree!

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  3. I'm definitely going to keep a look out for this one. Sounds great!

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  4. Ditto what Paulita said :) Glad you loved it, Diane. Great review!

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  5. Wow - can't ignore that recommendation! Have just added it to my wish list.

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  6. Great review...it's definitely in my top five for 2011. There was a point in the book where my heart flat-out stopped...fantastic read!

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  7. Firstly, the cover is fantastic and to follow, I love Flannery O'Connor's writing, so I shall be on the lookout for this one. Thank you for posting it and for the snippet!

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  8. I'm not a fan of the new books which include a famous (and dead) author, i.e. the Jane Austen books of late. However, after reading your review, I think this one is well worth looking into.

    BTW, I am definitely enjoying the Anita Shreve book. Funny how our reading tastes change, isn't it?

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  9. Wow, between you and the commenters, these are some pretty compelling endorsements!

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  10. I have been so curious about this book, and now that I read your enticing and enthusiastic review on it, I want to rush out and grab it up right away! It sounds like an excellent story, and since I have always had a fascination for O'Connor, I just can't ignore this one! Thanks for the great review!

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  11. So glad to hear such a solid recommendation for this one! I've been eyeing that bold cover for a while now. It's definitely been moved up on my list. Great review!

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  12. I'm with everyone else -- you've totally sold me on this one. Great review -- I love novels about novelists so I'm all in.

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  13. Hi Diane,

    Books that dwell on small town life are always good for some complicated characters and difficult and emotional relationships.

    This one sounds like it was quite an emotional and harrowing story and definitely another one for my reading list.

    The title sounds like a perfect fit for the storyline and I love the cover.

    Thanks for the recommendation

    Yvonne

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  14. A book that you love that much is a book that I need to get! Thanks for the recommendation!

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  15. WOW, that's high praise and sure would reading!

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  16. I've overlooked this one numerous times. The cover doesn't do much for me but your review! Oh! I think I'd love this one. Especially since I have lupus and I almost never seen it referenced in fiction.

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  17. I just picked up my reserve copy at the library Tuesday. It's a couple of books down in my TBR pile - it'll be hard to wait!

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  18. I was intrigued by this cover when I first saw it; I knew that Flannery O'Connor was featured, but I didn't get the peacock connection till I read your review. Any book that you consider a contender for best of the year, is one that I definitely want to read. Thanks for this wonderful review :)

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  19. Boy did I misjudge this one from the description! I thought it was a best a "maybe" interesting book. You've sold me--gonna have to pick this one up.

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  20. Diane, I enjoyed the quote and your review is glowing--I will definitely be on the lookout for this book.

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  21. It sounds wonderful! I'll just have to wait until I am in the mood for a heartbreaker.

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  22. I am not so sure this book would have made it to my wish list. After reading how much you love it, it will be on my must read list. Thanks for the great review! I would have missed this otherwise!

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  23. I liked this one too (although not quite as much as you!) I don't often care for Southern fiction, but this one had such a wonderful cast of characters!

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  24. I haven't heard of this book before Diane. It sounds very intriguing. You find some of the most interesting books.

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  25. Generally, I am not a fan of mixing fiction with nonfiction, but your review & my love of Flannery O'Connor makes this a must read. Fabulous review!

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  26. Fantastic review, Diane! I'm so glad you loved this book, I thought it was fantastic. I completely agree about the contrast between Flannery and Cookie. I love how very different they were and how Cookie feared Flannery.

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  27. "Don't miss it" is quite the endorsement! I have to confess that I haven't read anything by Flannery O'Connor - do I need her work as a background to enjoy this novel?

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  28. I'm so glad that you liked this booK Diane! It sounds like my kind of book and it's been on my wishlist since I first read about it.

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