A Good Hard Look

Written by Ann Napolitano
Review by Nanette Donohue

Flannery O’Connor is one of the great figures of 20th-century American literature, an icon of Southern fiction whose life was cut tragically short. Napolitano takes readers inside O’Connor’s small-town life in Milledgeville, Georgia, introducing us to a circle of fictional characters who populate the author’s world.

Cookie Himmel is Milledgeville’s golden girl – a kindhearted beauty who dreams of life beyond the confines of her hometown. She moves to New York City after her high school graduation and quickly finds herself lost in the shuffle of the big city. Cookie is at a particularly low point when she meets Melvin Whiteson, a wealthy banker’s son and native Manhattanite, and Cookie’s vulnerability awakens a protectiveness in Melvin. They marry and return to Milledgeville to raise their family. Melvin soon finds himself pulled into O’Connor’s tight-knit circle, a fact that he hides from Cookie, whose run-ins with the author left her emotionally bruised. Cookie, meanwhile, throws herself into small-town life, joining every committee and decorating and re-decorating her home. But this sleepy Southern town will be shaken to the core by infidelity, a murder, and a sudden and devastating death.

Napolitano does a masterful job blending real people with fictional characters – it’s difficult to tell where fact ends and fiction begins. She captures the fierce spirit and sharp wit of Flannery O’Connor, creating a fictionalized version of her life in Milledgeville that is believable and entertaining. Throughout the novel, the characters grow and change, their lives shifting as the events happening around them alter their lives. Readers who enjoy Southern fiction will appreciate Napolitano’s observant and intelligent novel.