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A Good Hard Look
Cover of A Good Hard Look
A Good Hard Look
A Novel
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In Flannery O'Connor's hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, reckless relationships lead to a tragedy that forever alters the town and the author herself.

Crippled by lupus at twenty-five, celebrated author Flannery O'Connor was forced to leave New York City and return home to Andalusia, her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. Years later, as Flannery is finishing a novel and tending to her menagerie of peacocks, her mother drags her to the wedding of a family friend.

Cookie Himmel embodies every facet of Southern womanhood that Flannery lacks: she is revered for her beauty and grace; she is at the helm of every ladies' organization in town; and she has returned from her time in Manhattan with a rich fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. Melvin has come to Milledgeville to begin a new chapter in his life, but it is not until he meets Flannery that he starts to take a good hard look at the choices he has made. Despite the limitations of her disease, Flannery seems to be more alive than other people, and Melvin is drawn to her like a moth to a candle flame.

Melvin is not the only person in Milledgeville who starts to feel that life is passing him by. Lona Waters, the dutiful wife of a local policeman, is hired by Cookie to help create a perfect home. As Lona spends her days sewing curtains, she is given an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, and she seizes it with both hands.

Heartbreakingly beautiful and inescapably human, these ordinary and extraordinary people chart their own courses through life. In the aftermath of one tragic afternoon, they are all forced to look at themselves and face up to Flannery's observation that "the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
In Flannery O'Connor's hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, reckless relationships lead to a tragedy that forever alters the town and the author herself.

Crippled by lupus at twenty-five, celebrated author Flannery O'Connor was forced to leave New York City and return home to Andalusia, her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. Years later, as Flannery is finishing a novel and tending to her menagerie of peacocks, her mother drags her to the wedding of a family friend.

Cookie Himmel embodies every facet of Southern womanhood that Flannery lacks: she is revered for her beauty and grace; she is at the helm of every ladies' organization in town; and she has returned from her time in Manhattan with a rich fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. Melvin has come to Milledgeville to begin a new chapter in his life, but it is not until he meets Flannery that he starts to take a good hard look at the choices he has made. Despite the limitations of her disease, Flannery seems to be more alive than other people, and Melvin is drawn to her like a moth to a candle flame.

Melvin is not the only person in Milledgeville who starts to feel that life is passing him by. Lona Waters, the dutiful wife of a local policeman, is hired by Cookie to help create a perfect home. As Lona spends her days sewing curtains, she is given an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, and she seizes it with both hands.

Heartbreakingly beautiful and inescapably human, these ordinary and extraordinary people chart their own courses through life. In the aftermath of one tragic afternoon, they are all forced to look at themselves and face up to Flannery's observation that "the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
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  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 9, 2011
    Napolitano's second novel (after Within Arm's Reach) is a study in the rural milieu of Milledgeville, Ga., whose famous resident is known not only for her writing, but also for keeping peacocks and for other colorful proclivities. Wealthy New Yorker Melvin Whiteson meets Flannery O'Connor at his wedding to the beautiful but insecure Cookie, who has persuaded him to relocate to her hometown. Melvin forms an unlikely friendship with Flannery, and keeps it secret from his wife, who's intimidated by the author. While explaining one of her stories to Melvin, Flannery telegraphs Napolitano's primary theme: "it's possible that the characters are closer to grace at the end of the stories. Grace changes a person, you know. And change is painful." Cookie slowly becomes an integral part of high society by serving on numerous committees and creating an enviable house. She enlists the interior design help of Lona Waters, a lonely seamstress stuck in a lifeless marriage with a police officer, and Lona soon rediscovers her purpose in the arms of a 17-year-old boy, an impetuous act that will have a great impact on a number of Milledgeville residents. Though Napolitano steeps her tale in the Southern gothic made famous by her famous character, she could have used O'Connor's help with her prose.

  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2011

    Flannery O'Connor fans will be drawn to this fictionalized version of her later years as a strong-willed, deeply lonely genius.

    In the early 1960s, when wealthy New Yorker Melvin Whiteson moves to Milledgeville to marry his sweetheart Cookie Himmel, Flannery is living with her mother on the family farm, struggling to complete her second novel and suffering increasingly from the lupus that eventually kills her. A lifelong poultry aficionado, Flannery is also raising peacocks. In the novel's striking first scene, Cookie and Melvin are awakened on the eve of their wedding by the peacocks' din, a foreshadowing of what's to happen to the couple. They love each other but do not understand each other. Emotionally fragile Cookie has considered Flannery her nemesis ever since she read Wise Blood and felt exposed in the worst light as the character Sabbath Lily. A cutting remark Flannery made at Cookie's high-school awards ceremony so humiliated the girl that she left town as soon as she graduated. Sporting her new rich and handsome husband, Cookie has returned desperate to prove to Milledgeville what a glamorous success she has become and throws herself into community activities. Sophisticated but aimless Melvin finds himself at loose ends in the small town. Soon he finds himself drawn to Flannery in a platonic but intense relationship he hides from Cookie. When Cookie has a baby, she and Melvin begin to re-establish their connection, but ultimately Melvin cannot stay away from Flannery. Meanwhile, Cookie has hired the deputy sheriff's wife Lona Waters, another lonely outsider, to make curtains for their new impressive home. Inevitably these unhappy lives—Lona has begun a dangerous relationship of her own—wind together until violent, senseless deaths occur, propelling characters into dark nights of the soul but also the possibility of Flannery O'Connor–like grace.

    The tone and careful use of language certainly recalls O'Connor, but Napolitano (Within Arm's Reach, 2004) takes too many shortcuts around her plot and characters to bring the novel to life.

     

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

  • Library Journal

    February 1, 2011

    Napolitano, who did nicely when she debuted with Within Arm's Reach, now tries for something rich and ambitious with a second novel starring Flannery O'Connor. When New Yorker Melvin Whiteson comes to Milledgeville, GA, with his fiancee, the town's reigning Southern belle, he's much taken by O'Connor--she represents the choices he didn't make and the life he could have had. A first look suggests that this is sharp and thoughtfully written; great for book clubs, so be glad that there's a guide.

    Copyright 2011 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    May 1, 2011
    The fact that an at-her-prime, seriously ill Flannery OConnor is one of its main characters, while it might have overwhelmed a lesser novel, doesnt drown this one; Napolitano doesnt seek to emulate OConnors style (other than by being, also, pointedly southern), but crafts, through her characters (stunt-cast or no) her own powerful argument for living honestly. In a high-emotion yet subtly handled setup, Flannerys pretty, easily bruised cousin Cookie returns to their hometown after her marriage and her husband, despite his wifes hatred of her acerbic relative, befriends the writer. This friendship sets off unsettling waves in the lives of those involved, eventually culminating in one side of a double tragedy. On the other is Lona, a repressed housewife who falls disastrously in love with a teenage boy and dreams of escape. The subsequent post-tragedy section is overlong and less compelling than the slow, delicate stage setting and dramatic climax preceding. But, even if the second cant quite live up to the first half, the whole is above average: muggy, sleepily enthralling, and worth a read.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2011, American Library Association.)

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A Novel
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