Tuesday, July 3, 2012
A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano
The local celebrity in Milledgeville, Georgia, is Flannery O’Connor. Raised in the town, Flannery moved to New York to pursue a writing career. She is making headway when she receives the same diagnosis of lupus that killed her father. Flannery’s disease moves quickly and at the age of twenty-five, she is back home in Milledgeville at the family farm, Andalusia. She spends her time writing and raising peacocks; the fierce, proud birds touching a chord in her. She is the local star, yet feared by many of the town for her ability to see through the artifice with which most of us surround our lives. As O’Connor was known to say: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”
While Flannery is the most famous inhabitant, she is not necessarily the most influential. That would be the power couple of Cookie and Melvin Whiteson. Cookie grew up in town, the ‘it’ girl who was the most popular in high school and who won all the trophies and prizes. She went North after school and returned with Melvin, an extremely wealthy man who wants to marry her. Their wedding is the year’s most talked about event, and also the place where Melvin and Flannery meet. They strike up a friendship that Cookie is unaware of and would never approve of. Cookie spends her time organizing everything worth organizing in town and is recognized as the woman who makes things happen.
Lona Waters is as far in character from Cookie as it is possible to be. Lona has drifted through life, married to Bill Waters, an ambitious policeman. She has a drapery business and spends her time making window treatments for the wealthy of the town. Yet, Cookie, Flannery and Lona all are brought together in an afternoon of tragedy. Afterwards, none of the women or the men in their lives are the same.
Ann Napolitano has created a masterful portrayal of Southern life and more, the portrayal of how most of us move through life, living it but never really experiencing it to the fullest. The characters are compellingly drawn, while the tragedy that defines the book is foreshadowed in such a way that when it occurs, it seems inevitable. Yet, the characters and their lives also have hope, leaving the reader shaken and better for having read it. This book is highly recommended for all readers; a powerful novel that redefines how individuals can face life and its hardships.