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A Good Hard Look

5 stars
789 (31%)
4 stars
1,072 (42%)
3 stars
510 (20%)
2 stars
121 (4%)
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39 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 425 reviews
Profile Image for Kathleen.
1,219 reviews
August 8, 2011
I like to read with a pen and small notebook close by, to copy a phrase or thought or question for later reflection. This book caused me to stop so often to bookmark or jot something down that it almost became a distraction. "A Good Hard Look" may be the most thought-provoking book I have read in many months.

Flannery O’Connor is an author I have read off and on throughout my life, drawn to her style and subjects at times, put off by her raw emotions at others, intrigued by the literary giants who were her peers, and saddened by her debilitating illness and early death. In this novel, she, and the fictional characters that surround her, come to life struggling with their tragic flaws.
At the beginning of this novel, O’Connor has been back in her childhood home in Georgia for 12 years, forced to move from her stimulating writing life in the North back to her childhood home where her mother could help care for her after her diagnosis with lupus. “She knew what it was like to have a life, and then lose it.” The townspeople resent her because they believe she has used them and the town in her novel, Wise Blood, and anticipate their lives could and will be used again. Meeting her face to face, hearing her searing, honest thoughts, further frightens them away.

The foreshadowing in the early pages of the novel is evident, but I was unprepared for the tsunami that occurred bringing such destruction to so many characters. Details are exquisitely drawn, almost excruciatingly, moment by moment, as one observes Flannery’s beloved peacocks and characters. The author manages to capture moments in characters’ lives that both defined them and revealed their most awful selves. The reader may also see something of himself.

Flannery O’Connor…Melvin Whiteson…Cookie Himmel…Miss Mary…Regina O’Connor…Lona, Bill, Gigi, Joe…The platonic relationship that develops between O’Connor and a recently married man whose wife has long despised O’Connor is built upon secrecy. Ironically, words connected them; Flannery “fought to make every word count” in her writing. She and Melvin Whiteson are able to converse with each other in a way that is not available elsewhere in their lives. “He knew from her writing, from the way she trapped tiny disappointments, tiny hopes, tiny frustrations and pinned them down with sentences. Flannery saw everything, and was able to translate her insights into words.” Whiteson’s wife, Cookie Himmel, is driven to carve out a life in Milledgeville that serves her self-indulgent needs, feeds her ego, and separates her from Flannery; it also reflects the socioeconomic realities of the small town. While she and an ambitious police officer are strategic about their work, other characters seem to behave more aimlessly, and yet, all are caught in the tidal wave.

“Everyone had, at best, only one big story in his or her life; a story that rendered everything else just a footnote.”

Flannery’s knowledge that death was imminent and her obsession with her writing as time was running out kept pace with the small steps being taken by others whose lives were irrevocably changed one afternoon.

In the end whose fate is worse? Who has lost more? Are there lessons of forgiveness and redemption? “There were very few guiltless people that day.” The perceptions of the characters reveal their flawed, very human thinking…that Flannery’s illness kept her “good” and now she has disappointed…that only one person survived…that Cookie has lost everything despite doing everything right, that guilt replaces grief, tethering certain people to place…”Hope. They are sustained by hope. Hope may have a positive reputation, but it has a vicious downside. If you have hope, you may be crushed”…that “Grace changes a person…And change is painful”... “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Napolitano’s research and understanding of O’Connor’s writing is demonstrated throughout the novel. However, the many passages revealing O’Connor’s deep faith and her later struggle were riveting, reflecting the connection between her faith, living with her illness and her writing…”she had used it to shape her life.”

Profile Image for Erika Robuck.
Author 11 books1,068 followers
September 20, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Katrina.
55 reviews31 followers
September 7, 2011
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it,” is the epigraphic quote that begins Ann Napolitano’s new novel, “A Good Hard Look.” Even if you haven’t read Flannery O’Connor and experienced her unflinching characterizations and situations rendered with sharp wit, you will feel as if you know her after reading this memorable portrayal. Milledgeville, Georgia, the town in which O’Connor lived, comes to life in Napolitano’s assured hands, and its characters are just as lively and flawed as you’d expect them to be.

One of the women, a pampered belle, is terrified she’ll end up a character in Flannery’s work, an unflattering replica doused with Flannery’s acerbic humor. A boy suffers from crippling anxiety except when he’s around his summer employer. Two women take care of each other’s child and the result is that a girl gets the nurturing she needs and a boy moves too quickly into adulthood. After a wealthy, married man is asked to teach Flannery to drive, they develop a clandestine friendship, and a police man lives for earning a promotion and little else. Firmly in the center are Flannery, hindered by her illness, yet dedicated to her work, her mother Regina, whose devotion to her daughter is deeply affecting, and a flock of raucous peacocks. As in O’Connor’s work, there are larger questions of religion and grace throughout. The people in “A Good Hard Look” are leaning toward self-destruction and one irreversible, calamitous misstep will bring others down like dominoes in its wake.

Napolitano is a gifted storyteller, recreating Milledgeville and its imperfect but well-meaning people, lending a sensibility that’s arguably in keeping with O’Connor’s vision, yet grounded in her own modern voice. In this vein, Napolitano offers us a look at characters on their rough and painful journey toward redemption.

O’Connor once wrote, “I am not afraid the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.” I imagine Ms. O’Connor would have approved of “A Good Hard Look.”

*Review first published in the August 14th edition of The Pilot of Southern Pines
Profile Image for Linda Lipko.
1,904 reviews43 followers
August 27, 2011
At the young age of 39, Flannery O'Connor's life ended when systemic lupus claimed her body. This novel weaves a tale of the last five years of Flannery's life.

A friend who shares similar reading tastes recommended this book. I owe her a big thanks! This book is brilliantly, powerfully written.

Anyone who appreciates the writings of Flannery O'Connor will find a home when reading this book. It is obvious the writer researched the life of O'Connor and, it is amazing that like O'Connor, the author fascinatingly depicts characters who make choices that set a path of destruction in motion, never able to return and resew the fabric once it is unraveled.

Set in the home town in Milledgeville, Georgia, the home of Flannery and her mother Regina, the backdrop of Flannery's beloved Peacocks provide the framework of a screaming, screeching set of 40 birds who, while fascinatingly beautiful, are disturbingly obnoxious.

On their honeymoon eve, Melvin, a NY transplant and Cookie, his society soon to be bride make frantic love while hearing the cacophony of the bellowing and hollering birds. Setting the tone for dark events to follow, Cookie falls out of bed and blackens her eye.

Pot smoking, lonely wife of the town Police Chief, Lona sews curtains for the residents of the town. When she falls in love with a 17 year old young man, her choices have grave consequences.

NY transplant Melvin soon discovers a soul mate in Flannery and, while he travels thoughout town with a lovely wife, he is drawn to Flannery and her uncompromising, blunt honesty. Against the admonitions of his wife, he continues to visit Flannery. He eventually pays a very heavy price for his emotional indiscretion.

In this stunningly beautiful book, Napolitano allows the reader to peer into the souls of complicated, anguished people who. like those in an O'Connor novel long for redemption and grace.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,738 reviews14.1k followers
July 31, 2011
From the beginning of this book there is a sense of tension and forboding, a wedding and the screams of peacocks. Beautifully written love the words and this fictional portrayal of Flannery O'Conner and the twon she lived in. I have to say that I have never read anything by her but just as with The Parils Wife, everyone wanted to read Moveable Feast, I now want to read Flannery.
Profile Image for The.Saved.Reader.
411 reviews80 followers
September 8, 2011
When I first started hearing about A good Hard Look, I thought I might not enjoy it so much since I didn't know a gosh darn thing about Flannery O'Connor. You notice I said that I "didn't know"? Well, that's because this book turned out to be a great primer on Flannery.

This story takes place in Milledgeville, Georgia, Flannery O'Connor's hometown. Flannery and her 40-some peacocks are at the center of the story throughout and, in large part, all the other relationships and stories are build around her in some way.

Flannery has returned home after a bout with Lupus that keeps her from being able to care for herself. She has recently published Wise Blood and it has created quite a stir in Milledgeville because it seems to be based on actual persons who live in that town.

At the start of the book Cookie Himmel, the town beauty, has returned home to marry Melvin Whiteson. Cookie sees Flannery at her reception and immediately we learn that Cookie is intimidated by Flannery and this remains in the forefront the entire story.

As the story unfolds, we learn that the town of Milledgeville isn't quite as sleepy as you think. Melvin cannot stay away from Flannery. His interest is platonic, but inevitably this creates problems between Cookie and himself, which climax to a degree that is shocking.

There are some other relationships that evolve and several other shocking events that take place as the story moves along, but I'm not sure how to touch on them without giving too much away. This is a new favorite and I plan on sharing it with as many people as possible. I am definitely interested in reading Wise Blood at this point-I'll have to put in on my gargantuan "to-read" list.
Profile Image for Janice.
1,398 reviews39 followers
June 13, 2012
This book is set in Milledgeville, Georgia, the hometown of author Flannery O'Connor, in the 1960's, near the end of O'Connor's short life.
O'Connor figures as one of the central characters, and at first I wasn't sure I would like her; however by the end of the book, I found her a person I would like to learn more about. I have not read much by O'Connor, but do plan to do so. I especially liked the descriptions of Flannery's love and fascination with her peacocks. I don't know how much the rest of the story follows the truth of O'Connor's life, but Napolitano has apparently done a lot of research. Even though this book is fiction, the author has created an interesting story, and left me intrigued to learn more about Flannery O'Connor as well as read more of her work.
Profile Image for Paula.
239 reviews8 followers
March 29, 2015
I only give 5 stars to books worthy of a second read, and this one certainly is. This is considered historical fiction because one of the characters is the writer, Flannery O'Conner, but it is so much more. The writing is excellent with such well-developed, complex characters and a thoroughly engaging story until the very last page. I was truly touched by the vulnerability and honesty of all the characters. I will remember this book long after I return it to the library.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
830 reviews766 followers
August 17, 2011
The sleepy town of Milledgeville, Georgia, circa 1960, is about to get a colossal wake-up call. Tectonic shifts in social dynamics and behavior will disrupt the civil order of its typically complacent peace. The high-pitched yowls heard at the center of town were previously the exclusive domain of author Flannery O'Connor's peacocks, housed on a 544-acre farm in Andalusia, four miles northwest of the central rural sprawl. Now the muted laments of malcontents and smug inhabitants will create vast cracks in the town's foundation and eclipse the peacock's cries.

The story opens with the shrill, plangent brays of the peacocks intruding on the serenity of Cookie Himmel and her fiancé, Melvin Whiteson, the night before their wedding. Cookie, who is Milledgeville's southern belle beauty and community organizer, met the wealthy Melvin in New York, and brought him back home to start their married life. Cookie and Flannery have a murky past that is revealed in measured increments, furnishing the story with a past that threatens to ambush the future.

The laconic O'Connor, disabled by lupus, manages to fluster Cookie at every opportunity. Complicating matters is the friendly relationship between Melvin and Flannery, commenced at the wedding and growing, despite Cookie's entreaties to her husband to stop seeing the author, her nemesis.

Lona, the compliant wife of policeman and politically aspiring Bill Waters, is a restive soul who sews curtains for the people of Milledgeville, and has recently been hired by Cookie to decorate the windows of the Whiteson mansion. Lona's friendship with the town gossip, Miss Mary, is strengthened by all the years that Mary took care of Lona's daughter, Gigi. Now Miss Mary needs a return favor--for Lona to hire Mary's son, Joe, a quietly troubled but likable high school senior. The plan is for Lona to inveigle Joe to confide his torments to her, in an effort to cure what ails him psychologically.

The first one hundred or so pages are about as bland as the town itself. In retrospect, this is obviously deliberate on Napolitano's part. There is an old-fashioned dowdiness to the language, even a few clichés--yet smartly transacted, despite her prosaicness, to lull the reader into Milledgeville's collective vanilla life. The inclusion of Flannery O'Connor was risky, of course, as an historical individual can be a distracting, dubious force in a fictional story. In this case, however, Flannery's presence is both vital and pivotal.

The stoic purr of Milledgeville cruises along, a little messiness beginning to darken the sky, and the wild grasses of the landscape, almost succumbing to ennui, start to rustle. Abruptly, the sanguinity is blind-sided, and the reader, in a crucial, irreversible moment, is hit by a two-ton truck. And then hurled through the windshield (metaphorically speaking, of course). We are seized from passive observance to pressing pain and tragic immediacy.

What is impressive about Napolitano's craftsmanship is her ability to find the domain between melodrama and verisimilitude, to captivate the reader through phenomenal events that are grounded in authenticity. She does it through the seemingly serviceable prose, her musculature residing in her story. Napolitano, in the final assessment, is a consummate storyteller. She doesn't lose control of her keenly drawn characters once they are covered with the shattered glass of events, stranded on the highway of a broken life. She continues to develop and reveal, develop and reveal, and carries the reader effectively to a genuine conclusion.

There is one crushed relationship that, towards the end, evolves in a way that may be difficult for some readers to accept. Can the shards of tragedy manifest into triumph? Napolitano succeeds in making it plausible, by committing the characters to acute self-examination and opening a valve to redemption. Take a good hard look at sleepy Milledgeville, Georgia, and find a moving, merciful salvation through catastrophic pain and suffering.
Profile Image for Craig Amason.
433 reviews8 followers
July 8, 2011
Flannery O'Connor is a fairly recent historical figure with a fan base that has expanded rapidly in recent years. Using her home town as a setting and figuring her prominently in a novel is bound to raise the eyebrows of her biggest fans and some of her contemporaries in Milledgeville, Georgia. Having said that, Napolitano's novel is a good read. She is a good writer, the story is compelling, and the reader finishes the book feeling positive about O'Connor.

There are some moments in the book where I think Napolitano could have been a bit more careful to make the story more plausible. I am not referring to historical accuracy as far as O'Connor's life is concerned -- after all, this is a work of fiction, and the author should be able to weave the story as she sees fit in that regard. What seems to be out of the realm of plausibility is that a person like O'Connor would have considered asking a newly married man to give her driving lessons. There are a few other small examples that jerk the reader out of the narrative because of the inconsistency with the time and place of the novel, such as the scene where O'Connor and her mother are in the office of a Milledgeville doctor in the early 1960s and the doctor states that O'Connor's condition has "pissed" off her lupus (he uses that word twice). No small-town doctor in the early 1960s would have used such language in the presence of two women that he knew so well.

Even these points that I am bringing up will largely be ignored by the vast majority of readers, and Napolitano's novel will most likely be well accepted. In fact, it is already getting critical attention, which is good news. And considering how other writers could have been (and very likely will be eventually) very unsympathetic to Flannery O'Connor in a work of fiction, those of us who are devoted fans of this great American writer can thank Napolitano for this tribute.
Profile Image for Joanell Serra.
Author 3 books34 followers
August 13, 2018
I'm so sad to finish this book. Thewriting was beautiful and it had a tremendous sense of place. Set in Georgia in the early sixties, we follow the stories of five or six characters in a small town. The writer Flannery O'Conner is a key character, but the book is really about the interactions and interplay of the various members of town. Each one has to come to terms with finding their place in this small world while wrestling with painful life challenges.

As a writer myself, who also often writes from multiple perspectives, I was blown away by the writer's ability to really place us in each character's mind and experience. And the writing! I found myself rereading certain sentences just to hear the nuanced, playful, language and rich descriptions.
Profile Image for Laura Harrington.
Author 10 books168 followers
July 25, 2011
A gorgeous, profound book. A GOOD HARD LOOK is a book that allows us to experience lives that are deeply human and flawed and full of hope and grief and anguish and possibility. Every character confronts their best and worst selves. This is no small feat. And the fact that every character is grieving and yet we are left with a sense of hard-won hope and a sense that yes, there is reason to have faith in something deeper, something more, something indefinable and inexpressible, but no less essential for its mystery.
Profile Image for Nanci.
910 reviews20 followers
February 14, 2021
I have never read any of the writing of Flannery O'Connor, although now after reading this book, she will be on my list to read. In this novel, by the very talented Ann Napolitano, Flannery is at the center of the book. I was trying to read this book quickly as it was during a reading challenge on GR, but it was near impossible. There are so many beautiful sentences and paragraphs that just insist on being reread and savored. The storyline itself is compelling and held my interest. The volcano of emotions that take place were very much not expected.

At the end, I was torn on the rating, but settled on 4 stars. It would make a good book for a book discussion, although there are some very disturbing parts.
Profile Image for Charlene.
891 reviews76 followers
November 13, 2019
I would have given this four stars except that I disapprove, on principle, of taking a real character & adding a major, life changing event that never happened to her life.
Novel covers the last two years of Flannery O'Connor's life in Milledgeville; adding some story lines with fictional townspeople.
There must be elements of magic realism in it also for the noises from Flannery's peacocks out at Andalusia to cause the disturbances they do in town and also for a pistol shot in town to upset them enough to cause a death.
But, aside from those complaints, it was a good story, well written and Flannery and her mother came to life. Other story lines were good, too, and I especially liked the time the other characters were in NYC, they seemed to ring truer than the Milledgeville ones.
Profile Image for Lisa.
730 reviews
September 4, 2021
I didn't want to read this book. I didn't know who Flannery O'Connor was. I couldn't find the book. Then I read, People You Meet on Vacation, and Flannery was Alex's cat, named after his favorite author. So, even though I found Alex peculiar, I decided it was time to get to know Flannery. At least the fiction version of her an I'm so glad I did. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though I had to read it on my phone. I didn't have to know Flannery or her works to like the book - it was a good story. Now, I'm inspired to read one of her books.
Profile Image for We Are All Mad Here.
505 reviews38 followers
October 14, 2020
If the real Flannery O'Connor was anything like her character in this book I think I would have loved her.

While this book was nowhere near as dismal as the writing of F. O'Connor herself, it was still full of tragedy - and a major question here seemed to be: who is to blame?

My answer continues to be: no one. Or, fine, maybe someone. But what does it really matter?
Profile Image for Pamela Baker.
300 reviews4 followers
October 8, 2022
3.5 stars - I rounded up.
Thoughtful and engaging with hard themes. Not sure I grasped the main point of the book though. I may revisit this review after more consideration. Looking forward to hearing my friends' opinions at book club.
One thing I learned from this book--I don't want to ever live near peacocks!
Profile Image for Maureen Grigsby.
860 reviews
December 12, 2020
This was an interesting look at Flannery O’Connor and her relationship with her neighbors and family. Although this is a work of fiction, I imagine there is a lot of truth in her portrayal.
Profile Image for Janet.
248 reviews61 followers
August 31, 2011
What nerve Ann Napolitano has. It takes nerve to write a novel with Flannery O'Connor as a main character. To set much of the story in O'Connor's hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia and Andalusia, O'Connor's farm. To take on the very themes that O'Connor explored with such artistry: death, grace, faith, forgiveness, redemption. To write characters whose lives will change in a second, whose fate will hinge on small moments with unthinkable consequences. A stolen kiss in a car, the spreading of a blanket on the ground, the offer to lend a suit. To do all this and know that your novel will be compared with, contrasted to, and judged alongside the life and work of one of the very best American writers of the twentieth century.

If you haven't already figured it out, I am a big fan of O'Connor's. She is one of the main reasons for my love of the short story form; I heartily recommend her award winning Complete Stories. So I admit to opening this novel with some trepidation. I wanted it to do right by Flannery O'Connor. I didn't want a woman so precise with her words, so uncompromising in her artistic vision, to play a part in a book that didn't live up to her standards. And I'm grateful to report that she doesn't.

The story is told from the point of view of several characters. Their stories are woven together, strand by strand, culminating in a truly moving denouement that does justice to the very themes O'Connor spent her life exploring. There were scenes in this book where I was amazed at how powerfully the dialogue evoked the spirit of O'Connor's writing.

I salute Napolitano for her fortitude. I can only imagine how daunting it must have been to write a novel with Flannery O'Connor watching your every move. So let me reiterate, with complete admiration. Ann Napolitano must have nerves of steel.
44 reviews
March 12, 2015
Reminiscent of Paris Wife and Loving Frank, A Good Hard Look, stars Flannery O'Connor in a supporting role. Main character Melvin Whiteson and new wife Cookie have returned from NYC to her hometown of Milledgeville, GA to start their lives together. You can't make up a name like Milledgeville and in fact it was the real hometown of Flannery O'Connor who herself returned there from New York when she was diagnosed with lupus which ultimately claimed her life. Melvin forms an unlikely and secret friendship with Flannery spending many happy hours teaching her to drive and discovers her deeply philosophic side hidden beneath a prickly difficult exterior.

. . . . meanwhile across town another couple form an unlikely and distressing relationship. Small towns being what they are, all these characters, and more, know each other and on one fateful afternoon they all tragically collide.

The story opens and closes with real life Flannery's menagerie of peacocks; legendary difficult birds, deceptively beautiful.

This story and these characters, impossible to predict, held my interest from page one to the last page.
Profile Image for Hannah.
396 reviews33 followers
July 9, 2019
As an ardent Flannery O'Connor fan, as someone who considers her work THE epitome of southern literature (suck it, Faulkner), this book was a huge disappointment. The author actually did the unthinkable: she made Flannery O'Connor boring. I get that this is a fictionalized version of her, but damnit, if you attach her name to anything, it better be damn good and it better deliver that Flannery feeling. This did not, at all. Not one single character was believable or likable. We were actually given very little Flannery, despite the fact that she is the central binding figure, and instead thrown a lot of awful drama. Much disappointment here.
Profile Image for Marian Beaman.
Author 2 books37 followers
February 24, 2020
Ann Napolitano brings six years of research to bear on the novel A Good Hard Look, starring characters clustered around the life and work of Flannery O’Connor. Her ordinary but unique characters seek to chart their own courses, weighing options, facing consequences, and finally learning that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Readers will become absorbed in the lives of the conflicted Melvin Whiteson, moving from New York City to Flannery’s Millegeville, Georgia; Cookie, a woman of artifice, terrified of the truth; Lona, who makes dangerous choices.

These characters and others interact with O’Connor as she struggles with lupus and tends to her menagerie of peacocks. Some of the most brilliant descriptions in the novel involve these magnificent birds, which represent both power and beauty: “Old men took their hats off at the sight of a peacock whose tail was spread like a freckled rainbow.”

A Good Hard Look is divided into three sections corresponding to the three main words in the novel’s title. For admirers of Ann Napolitano’s writing style and lovers of Flannery O’Connor’s fiction, this book is certainly worth a good, long look.
Profile Image for Jessica.
287 reviews16 followers
October 13, 2022
I chose this book for my book club to read as we are near Milledgeville, GA (where I went to college) and I have never actually read any Flannery O'Connor. It was definitely an interesting read, and everyone agreed we DO NOT want to live near peacocks! 😳
I struggled a bit with some of the drama. I didn't truly understand Cookie's dislike of Flannery. And Melvin needed some more details into his back story and what drove him (or didn't really).
There was some pretty tough topics too with a good bit of sadness and tragedy. Afterwards there is a lot of darkness, but I appreciated that it didn't stay that way. The characters learned and started to make some better choices, and there was hope for their future in the end!
Profile Image for Lisa Hess.
71 reviews2 followers
July 27, 2020
Wow, I can't believe I'm not giving this book five stars.

It really is an amazing, unique, beautiful read--especially if you imagine yourself a writer, at all. I read this book, because I just finished another Napolitano novel, Dear Edward, which I loved, but was a bit unsatisfied with, in the end. So, I was intrigued by this novel, and interested to see how the author would drop a real-live (well, not now, but she was) iconic Southern author into an otherwise fictional narrative.

It's astounding, really. This novel is even better than Dear Edward in many ways, but I think readers would have to be those who appreciate literary fiction to really enjoy it -- unlike Edward, which probably has a broader appeal.

Hard Look feels like a novel in which the author set out to write a compelling and authentic story of the human condition, and then set Flannery O'Connor smack in the middle of it, muse-like, to remind her to pull no punches, leave not one person unscathed. It works beautifully.

So why not give it five stars? Like I said, I can't believe I'm not, I mean, who am I to criticize writing this good? But once again, the ending... It's better than Dear Edward. Hard Look has a literary style ending...a la Great Gatsby...The Sun Also Rises. It probably would have worked for me, if I hadn't been previously unsatisfied with her last book's ending.

Still, amazing, beautifully rendered, recommended (as is Dear Edward). Beyond that, if you shudder a bit at Flannery O'Connor's honesty and rawness, but appreciate the courage of her writing (and, thus, her soul) this is a must-read, at some point in your life.
Profile Image for Mary.
786 reviews31 followers
October 8, 2017
Read Harder - set within 100 miles of home. I wish I could remember the list here on Goodreads that pointed me to this book; I'd like to read more of whatever it suggested! The story engaged me from page one (peacocks! a black eye and a wedding) and then we met Flannery O'Connor. The writing was beautiful and the characters were just the right mix of interesting and normal.

I think this will be my next bookclub pick. There's a lot to discuss.
215 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2021
There are a lot of main characters in this book whose stories ended up being entwined. There was a very slow build up, which at times got tedious. I feel like the huge dislike Cookie had for Flannery was not fully explained. I guess it was that she saw herself in one of Flannery's books, but to me it still made no sense. The story finally picked up the pace when some of the characters made the move to New York.
Book club 8/21
Profile Image for Susan.
588 reviews
June 9, 2020
Ann Napolitano's research weaves a novel into Flannery O'Conner's life and writings during her last five years of her life while dealing with the effects of Lupus (SLE) and enjoying a close friendship with a married man originally from NYC. There are side stories of couples, heartbreaking losses and their decisions to carry on. This author's style of writing is thoughtful and eloquent.
155 reviews3 followers
April 1, 2023
3.5 rounded up. This is an excellent book, but I’m reading it after her more recent book, Dear Edward, so my critique is bound to be more sharp. This one took a little longer to take hold. If I could start over with Ann Napolitano’s writing, I would start from the beginning (as I am coming to realize, should be the case with most authors)!
Profile Image for Sarah Beth.
924 reviews34 followers
May 10, 2013
A Good Hard Look is set in the small southern town of Milledgeville, Georgia, the town where Flannery O'Connor spent most of her life, writing her novels and short stories on her peacock covered farm, Andalusia. This novel follows a fictional series of events in Flannery and her mother Regina's lives, as well as that of other Milledgeville residents including Melvin and Cookie Whiteson, Lona Waters, and Joe Treadle. There is considerable antagonism between Flannery and Cookie - from Flannery because Cookie is everything - beautiful, socially accomplished, and a wife and mother - that Flannery is not, and Cookie because she resents the stark illumination she uncovers in Flannery's writing. Additionally, the two women conflict because of Cookie's husband, Melvin, who becomes close friends with Flannery and secretly visits her on her farm.

This book was of particular interest to me because I took a seminar class on Flannery O'Connor during college and visited Milledgeville, Georgia and Andalusia farm as part of the class. I love reading works set in places where I have been, because I can picture the characters in the setting so vividly. Flanery is seen sitting on her front porch, writing in her bedroom, and on the grounds with her peacocks - places where I have stood. I love feeling so connected to a piece. Additionally, many of the themes that O'Connor wrote about are discussed in this - her Catholic faith, moments of grace, random and terrible tragedies.

Napolitano was courageous in writing about an actual author, and putting herself in Flannery's shoes. There is considerable meta-writing, moments when Flannery muses to herself on the state of her current writing and where it will come next. "Wrestling with the unwieldy shape and size of the novel had been like trying to envelop her mother's favorite stallion with wrapping paper and a bow. The novel had stomped its hooves and snorted hot air and bared its teeth and kicked her. Flannery had walked away exhausted and bruised, unsure whether she had done the job she'd set out to accomplish" (p.168). Additionally, other characters are moved by reading Flannery's work, including Melvin who thinks about "Hulga, in "Good Country People." She was like Flannery: crippled, living with her mother. When Hulga's wooden leg was stolen by a salesman, Melvin had to put the book down for an entire day" (p.85).

It was particularly bold to presume the author's intent, even within this fictional format - for example when Melvin tells Flannery that "All of your characters are left in some kind of pain," she responds by saying, "Maybe I left them on their way to a happy ending. [...] Did you ever think of that?" (p.85). Additionally, the whole tragic plotline of Lona and Joe and Melvin and Cookie's baby girl, Rose, is entirely fictional. It's interesting to see Napolitano add events to O'Connor's life that did not occur. I do like the way she managed to keep so much of Flannery's life historically accurate while at the same time spinning a fictional narrative that intertwined the lives of multiple Milledgeville residents.

I was struck by how much the first half of this novel reminded me of The Help. Although this novel does not tackle racial inequality, it is set in a small southern town during a similar time period, features a writer exposing secrets about the town, and individuals of different social status interacting. Cookie, although not malicious like Hilly in The Help, mirrored Hilly's character. Like Hilly, Cookie is seen as socially prominent and influential and is seen interacting with domestic help, in this case Lona, who has been hired to sew curtains, however she does so with a grace and ease that Hilly does not possess; "There was a shift in the air that she recognized. With a simple adjustment of her posture - a relaxation of her shoulders - Cookie was temporarily promoting Lona from domestic staff to friend and confidante. Lona had seen this frequently with her mother, a silent seamstress expected to go about her work unless a client decided she could offer a convenient perspective" (p.77). Like Hilly, Cookie is outraged by the writing published in her town, which she feels exposes the town's secrets, and tries to have Flannery's books removed from the local library. "She would move forward with her plan to have Flannery O'Connor's books removed from circulation. [...] She wanted her daughter to grow up in a town where she didn't have anything to fear. She didn't want Rose to censor herself out of concern that she might be forever trapped in print" (p.135).

I was disappointed with the plot in the aftermath of the twin tragedies that occur. The book got very sad, and somewhat implausible concerning certain character developments after that point. However, I do think Napolitano tied up Flannery's story line nicely. Additionally, I like that the peacocks that Flannery loved are a constant throughout the novel, from the first line to the last. The ironic combination of their beauty and elegance, side by side by their horrible screaming noise and ornery dispositions seem to mirror the both beauty and tragedy that occur for the residents of Milledgeville explored in this novel.
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 8 books84 followers
August 6, 2018
Absolutely loved this novel featuring Flannery O'Connor as a main character. I don't know how I missed it back in 2011, but I am definitely buying the other book by this author. Delightful!
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