This is a different kind of book love story. A couple weeks ago, we were promoting A Good Hard Look for FridayReads and I got to spend a lot of time with Ann Napolitano’s website. I love her website. It’s beautiful, it’s helpful, it has unique and original content, not just links to the places you can buy her novels. It also has an excerpt of A Good Hard Look. Trying to come up with some clever tweets, I tweeted about one line in the first few pages, “The peacocks were not out to make friends.” I knew in that instant that I had to read this book.
A Good Hard Look completely lived up to every single expectation I had. In fact, it might have exceeded them. I am always wary of historical fiction novels that feature real-life people. In the case of A Good Hard Look, that person is Flannery O’Connor. I’ve never read anything by O’Connor, except for a story here and there, but I’ve been intrigued by her for a while now. A Good Hard Look just made me more interested in O’Connor and her fiction. But back to this story.
On the eve of Cookie Himmel and Melvin Whitestone’s wedding, Cookie’s cousin Flannery’s peacocks just won’t shut up. Restless because of the noise, Cookie gets up and and trips over a stool, giving herself a black eye. The next morning, she walks down the aisle, picture perfect, except for her eye. That bruise foreshadows everything that will take place in Millidgeville, the small town where Flannery O’Connor grew up and where she returns when she is diagnosed with lupus, like her father. Later in the book, Flannery and Melvin form an unlikely friendship, while Cookie refuses to have anything to do with the cousin she despises. Meanwhile, Lorna designs the curtains for the wealthy Whitestones, while employing Flannery’s next door neighbor, the teenage Joe.
These plots weave together beautifully to a tragic climax that affects everyone in Millidgeville. I think the best novels are the ones that, when a tragedy occurs, you just can’t believe it yourself. You want to go back to that time in the novel when everyone was happy, or when everything is “good”, as the first part of the novel is titled. What happened hit me hard and, honestly, was so unexpected. Ann Napolitano has written a book that truly just made me feel. I felt Flannery’s loneliness and the joy she felt when she was with Melvin. I felt Melvin’s helplessness in front of his own life. He’s a wealthy man, but he never seems to do much with it or do much at all, until he meets Flannery. I understood Cookie’s resentment of her famous cousin. And when it all fell apart, I fell apart too. These characters were just so real.
In a recent article, Ann Napolitano says that she thinks Flannery O’Connor would have hated this book. I have to agree with her, but only because I think the Flannery that Napolitano created is so vivid and real. And while she is the “backbone” of this novel, as Napolitano describes her, she’s not necessarily what this book is about. This book is about the complexity of love and all of its manifestations and it is done beautifully.
So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve read everything else
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of this book to review. You can read more about the tour, including links to other tour stops, here.