Author: Ann Napolitano
Publication Year: 2011
Source: Amazon Vine
Date Completed: 8/14/2011
Rating: 5/5Recommend: 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.