Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review: A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

Since I first read Wise Blood in high school, I have been fascinated with Flannery O'Connor and her works. I had never heard of Southern Gothic or of literary grotesques until I made the acquaintance of her writing and yet I have been attracted to the eccentric and painful version of the South that she first drew for me ever since. Napolitano has created a tartly realistic, deeply honest, yet fictionlized O'Connor and the people in Milledgeville, GA who allegedly inspired many of O'Connor's own flawed characters in this engrossing novel.

Seriously ill with lupus and living rather remotely from town on the family farm with her mother, O'Connor has had to abandon her vibrant life in New York when the novel opens the night before the wedding of a childhood acquaintance. The unconcerned and shatteringly loud screaming of peacocks rends the night air, setting the stage, introducing tension, and clearly foreshadowing the unexpected, catastrophic, fateful day that will change lives.

Told in varying voices, the novel tells not only of O'Connor and her developing friendship with Melvin Whiteson, who has come to Milledgeville to marry the beautiful and socially adept Cookie, but also of Cookie and her secret feeling of inadequacy, of Lona Waters, stifled in her marriage to a local policeman but finding some worth in her business making curtains, of young Joe Treadle, retreating from expectations and connections. Each of the secondary characters is drifting through life without respect to the choices that lead them. It is this unconsciousness that Flannery forces Melvin to confront during their long, secretive country drives. Astute and unblinking, Flannery sees her own future, or lack thereof, quite clearly.

Napolitano has drawn characters clearly related to O'Connor's own fictional creations. Although not nearly as grotesque, they are direct descendants of O'Connor's. And this novel echoes much of the moral questioning that reverberates through O'Connor's own works. But it also adds a dimension to O'Connor herself, plumbing her inspirations and examining her intentions, drawing her as a complex and intricate woman and author. As her character tells Melvin, when he mentions the unhappiness and disturbing view of humanity rife in O'Connor's writings, "Maybe I left them on their way to a happy ending" and "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." It is hard to say if Napolitano's characters are on their way to a happy ending here but they certainly experience their fair share of pain and grace and clarity. The novel starts out almost sleepily, just like a summer's day in the heat shrouded south, but the narrative tension builds slowly and steadily throughout the story so that when the climax comes, it is both unexpected and perfectly on time. This is a masterfully written tale especially richly rewarding to a lover of Southern literature.

For more information about Ann Napolitano and the book visit her webpage.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I've been told that I'd really enjoy O'Connor's writing but I haven't tried it out yet. Maybe this would be a way to get me into it, learning a bit about the author first.

    I'm glad you enjoyed this one! Thanks for being on the tour.


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