“Melvin could be inarticulate, and still Flannery would understand. He knew this from her writing, from the way she trapped tiny disappointments, tiny hopes, tiny frustrations, and pinned them down with sentences.” Ann Napolitano, A GOOD HARD LOOK
A GOOD HARD LOOK by Ann Napolitano was published in July of 2011 and is 326 pages. I follow Ann on Twitter and thought her book sounded interesting not only because I am a fan of Flannery O’Connor (one of the central characters in the novel), but because I’m also interested in reading how other novelists animate writers from the past, as I do in my own stories.
The novel takes place in O’Connor’s small hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia. There are three point of view characters in the book: Melvin, the wealthy New Yorker who’s relocated to marry Cookie, the town debutante, and Lona, their seamstress. Melvin, Cookie, and Lona are each stilted or stifled in some way, and are in search (consciously or unconsciously) of a way to make their lives matter.
Melvin is drawn to Flannery O’Connor for her bold honesty as an escape from the extreme state of politeness in which he lives his life. Cookie hates Flannery for this very reason–the fact that she feels Flannery has her figured out with a single, penetrating glance. Lona has allowed herself to become dulled by her household routines and the joints she smokes behind her police officer husband’s back.
As the characters’ lives are revealed in small pieces and the choices they make pull them further away from realizing their full selves, impending disaster rumbles beneath the surface. When it erupts in a scene of shocking violence and tragedy, every chance of hope seems lost. The characters must take a “good hard look” at how they’ve contributed to their own destruction and what they can do to rebuild their lives.
I had to let A GOOD HARD LOOK sit and simmer for a day after reading the last page. It is a work of literary fiction and there is a complexity of theme that is revealed subtly but satisfactorily. I reread passages from the beginning and revisited O’Connor’s works I’d read years ago, and found that though Naplitano writes in a style all her own, O’Connor’s influence can be felt in the jarring violence, insights into the human condition, and hard won redemption.
Much about A GOOD HARD LOOK reminds me of Nancy Horan’s LOVING FRANK. Both novels begin with a quiet literary style with flawed characters of great depth, and build to shocking events that lead to dramatic conclusions. If you enjoyed LOVING FRANK, you’ll also enjoy A GOOD HARD LOOK.
To me, the mark of a good book is one that keeps the reader up late at night, inspires reflection and revisiting of the prose, and sends the reader searching for more information about the characters, subjects, or settings. A GOOD HARD LOOK does all of those things, and I know it will continue to resonate within me and provoke new ideas long after I’ve finished it.
For more on Ann Napolitano, visit her website at: http://annnapolitano.com/ .