Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova (Luxury Reading)
Young and beautiful, southern belle Cookie Himmel arrives in Milledgeville, Georgia with her handsome and rich fiance, Melvin Whiteson, in tow. Her triumphant return home is marred by a similar homecoming, although under different circumstances, of Flannery O’Connor. A celebrated author, Flannery returns home after her lupus diagnosis, to live out her life on her mother’s farm in Andalusia. Flannery succumbs to her mother’s requests and attends Cookie’s wedding, where the strange animosity between the two women is immediately evident.
Seeing his new wife blossom in her familiar surroundings, Melvin is determined to make a new start for himself away from the bright lights of New York City and the weight of his family name. Despite his best intentions, his determination leads him to Andalusia and into Flannery’s company – a company that he keeps secret from Cookie. He is drawn to her spirit and her honesty, and finds himself examining his own choices in light of her openness.
At the other end of Cookie’s social stratosphere, Lona Waters, the quiet wife of a local policeman, helps make ends meet by sewing for the local families. When Cookie hires Lona to sew curtains for her new home, Lona too has the opportunity to examine her choices and to find tenderness where she least expects it.
A Good Hard Look is Ann Napolitano’s second novel and is structured around the actual life of Flannery O’Conner. She was in fact diagnosed with lupus at the age of twenty-five and moved home to Andalusia where she continued to write, and to “collect” a large flock of birds. These birds, and specifically peacocks, are featured heavily in the novel; their shrilling cries coincide with momentous occasions in Milledgeville, both good and heartbreakingly bad.
Although I was not sure where A Good Hard Look would take me when I first opened the book, I absolutely loved the journey. I was consistently drawn in by the string of choices made by incredibly real characters, and how those choices shaped their lives after one tragic afternoon.
Ann Napolitano has a special knack for hinting about events without fully defining them, allowing the reader to draw her own conclusions, to decipher the meaning through the clues that are offered. At heart, A Good Hard Look is very much like life: things are not always crystal clear or perfect in the end, but even an imperfect ending is beautiful in its journey.
The review copy of this book was provided free of any obligation by Penguin Press HC. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.