My thoughts: It's no secret I often adore novels with real people as characters. A fictional look at Flannery O'Connor and the town of Milledgeville (and likely the inspiration for some of her own fiction)? I was sold. Imagine my surprise when Flannery was my least favorite part of this novel. She was fine, but either Napolitano was afraid to emphasize the character of Flannery or she assumed her readers would bring that knowledge to this novel. There's certainly an argument for either, but in this novel, the rest of the ensemble shined.
The novel opens with the wedding of Cookie and Melvin, a New Yorker moving to Milledgeville to make his wife happy. Cookie hated New York and wanted to come home. Melvin's parents are dead, and he is wealthy enough to have options. Cookie has a firm dislike of Flannery, and Melvin initially struggles to understand the politics and opinions of this small town. Melvin was my favorite character in this novel. I appreciated his perspective as an outsider, but there was just something about him, regardless of his place, I was drawn to.
I'm not normally a big fan of Southern fiction, which shocks many people. I lived in Atlanta for thirteen years (although not a continuous thirteen years, of course, given my nomadic ways), but I never considered myself Southern. In many ways, A Good Hard Look is more of a small-town novel than a Southern one. There was a certain quaintness and placelessness to it that helped enhance the story for me.
While Flannery herself wasn't a fascinating character, her books were a character in their own right. Whether the other characters read them because they hate Flannery or love her, her stories have a power in Milledgeville. As a reader, it's always a pleasure to experience books with the characters:
"The reading was not enjoyable--the librarian said, you wouldn't want to take these to the beach--but it felt important."I keep my reading mostly literary even when on vacation, and A Good Hard Look is no exception. It has a little bit of something for everyone: small-town life, a wedding, drugs, a writer, animals, disease, and quite a few surprises.
Favorite passage: "Melvin liked the idea that something he told Flannery might appear in a book. His life was a messy compilation of moments that didn't fit together. If Flannery wove them into a narrative, they would have cohesion, and significance. He would be able to read about himself, and all that was inexplicable in real life would be explained."
The verdict: As a novel of small town drama, I enjoyed A Good Hard Look and its vibrant characters. As a novel about Flannery O'Connor, it was different than expected, which is pretty powerful in itself and would likely make Flannery herself happy. In A Good Hard Look, the ordinary is far more extraordinary than fame.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Publication date: July 7, 2011
Source: publisher via TLC Book Tours
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