Thursday, July 21, 2011
A Good Hard Look: A Novel by Ann Napolitano
Forced by illness to leave behind a successful life as a writer in New York, Flannery O'Connor has returned to her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. She desires a quiet, solitary existence, but her mother, Regina, insists that she engage with the life of their small town, and she drags Flannery 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 fiance, Melvin Whiteson. Melvin has come to Milledgeville to begin a new chapter in his life, but meeting Flannery pushes him further than he ever imagined. She knocks down the suppositions on which his life is built, until the whole house of cards threatens to collapse.
Melvin is not the only person in Milledgeville who feels 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 - a stark contrast to the unhappiness in her own. When Lona is offered an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, she seizes it with both hands, regardless of the consequences.
In the aftermath of one tragic afternoon, these ordinary and extraordinary people are forced to take a good, hard look at the choices they have made.
I loved this book! When I first picked it up to read, I wasn't sure what I was in for. Let me just say I was beyond pleasantly surprised. Napolitano has written an excellent book about a small town filled with quirky, but very real characters. Oh, and she's included the author, Flannery O' Connor and her posse of peacocks as one these unforgettable characters. Yes, Napolitano has taken someone real, a famed author in fact, and embedded them into the story so well, that you easily forget how real Flannery was -in spite of the mention of her books and writing and fame. Now I've never read much Flannery, so to me, everything mentioned in the book in relation to her was new to me - which I felt helped me take the story in so easily. Also, I loved the idea that I was reading this fiction book based on an actual person - it just made the whole story feel so real.
Told in a variety of perspectives, each chapter provides a look into the various lives of these residents of Milledgeville, GA. You find yourself connecting with their struggles, sorrows, bouts of insecurity and rare instances of happiness and peace. All they want is confirmation that they are on the right path and that the choices they've made in life have been the right ones. These people want to be happy, which makes it so easy to empathize with them, because at the end of the day, all anyone wants is to be happy in life. As for the town itself, well, its reminiscent of those quaint little towns you see depicted in movies like Steel Magnolias - the kind where everyone knows everyone's business. I love reading about those types of towns - they are just special and rare. And the pace of the story is perfect - its slow and steady at first, then quickly picks up speed as the tension builds and soon enough you are caught up in these lives that are moving on a track that gets completely derailed when tragedy strikes and everything goes wrong. Its captivating how Napolitano handles these tragic events and the new paths she steers our dear friends, Melvin, Cookie, Flannery and Lona toward. Talk about unputdownable reading!
I know I didn't go into detail about the story lines or the characters themselves, but that is because I want you to read this book for yourself. I want you to get lost in this truly wonderful novel that Napolitano has created. It is such a compelling story filled with unhappy marriages, illness, peacocks, unlikely friendships and so much more. In fact, it does make one wonder about their own life and the choices they've made. This is definitely a story that will stay with you long after the last page has been turned. It is a must read for anyone interested in reading a good piece of literature.
Thank you to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book.