Crippled by lupus at twenty-five, celebrated author Flannery O'Connor was forced to leave New York City and return home to Andalusia, her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia. Years later, as Flannery is finishing a novel and tending to her menagerie of peacocks, her mother drags her to the wedding of a family friend.
Cookie Himmel embodies every facet of Southern womanhood that Flannery lacks: she is revered for her beauty and grace; she is at the helm of every ladies' organization in town; and she has returned from her time in Manhattan with a rich fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. Melvin has come to Milledgeville to begin a new chapter in his life, but it is not until he meets Flannery that he starts to take a good hard look at the choices he has made. Despite the limitations of her disease, Flannery seems to be more alive than other people, and Melvin is drawn to her like a moth to a candle flame.
Melvin is not the only person in Milledgeville who starts to feel that life is passing him by. Lona Waters, the dutiful wife of a local policeman, is hired by Cookie to help create a perfect home. As Lona spends her days sewing curtains, she is given an opportunity to remember what it feels like to be truly alive, and she seizes it with both hands.
Heartbreakingly beautiful and inescapably human, these ordinary and extraordinary people chart their own courses through life. In the aftermath of one tragic afternoon, they are all forced to look at themselves and face up to Flannery's observation that "the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it."
A Good Hard Look
The peacocks tilted their heads back and bellowed and hollered their desires into the night. They snapped their shimmering tails open and shut like fans. Behind each male's pointy head, a green-bronze arch unfurled, covered with a halo of gazing suns. The females brayed and shook their less-attractive tails in return.
The birds didn't care that it was the middle of the night, and they didn't care who they were disturbing. They didn't care that there was a wedding tomorrow, or that the groom, who had just arrived from New York City, was lying beneath a lace canopy at his in-laws' house, paralyzed with fear. They didn't care that his fiancé startled awake in the next room and toppled out of her high bed, and they certainly didn't care that her face hit a stool on the way down. They didn't care that the rest of the small Georgia town was also awake, twitching in their beds like beached fish.
The peacocks were not out to make friends. They were out to do ...
I first read this novel over a month ago and have just re-read it - and I am very glad I did. Some books are simply born to be re-read, and then probably read again! Very much in the way Melvin thought of Flannery O'Connor, this novel strategically rubbed the facade of the many social pretenses right off everyday small town social interactions. It was intriguing with moments of brilliance, and led the reader to look very closely at the things that really matter between the people in our lives! Highly recommended - for both personal reading and for book group discussions - Kathrin C
(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
Full Review (766 words).
A number of reviewers describe A Good Hard Look as "Southern Gothic".
Gothic fiction generally combines elements of horror and romance, and might include, among many other features, psychological or physical terror, mystery, the supernatural, gothic architecture, darkness, death and madness.
One of, if not the earliest example of a gothic novel is Horace Walpole's
The Castle of Otranto (1764), and more recent examples include
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon,
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane and
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.
Gothic writers tend to use the genre, in part, as a vehicle to criticize the morality of their era, but whereas traditional gothic novels tend to include ...
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