Reading guide for A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

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A Good Hard Look

A Novel

by Ann Napolitano

A Good Hard Look
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2012, 352 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Why does Napolitano open the novel with the screaming of the peacocks and with Cookie's fall? Why does she end the novel with a peacock's tail pushing through the net of its captor?

  2. What kind of woman is Flannery O'Connor as she is portrayed in A Good Hard Look? How is she perceived by the people of Milledgeville? What crucial moments in the novel reveal her full depth and complexity?

  3. Flannery has a "clear preference for fiction over reality, but reality wouldn't leave her alone" [p. 168]. How does reality intrude upon Flannery's desire to escape into her fiction? How does she respond to such intrusions?

  4. Napolitano's writing is filled with vivid, arresting metaphors. The heat in the kitchen where Gigi works leans on her "like a grizzly bear, big and heavy, occasionally swatting her with a giant paw" [p. 259]. After her daughter's death, Cookie's mind "slipped across the calendar like it was a sheet of ice" [p. 207]. How do such descriptions add to the texture of the novel? How do they impact the reading experience?

  5. After the tragedy that kills Joe and Rose, Flannery thinks about "degrees of need…" She had "wanted Melvin's friendship, but had she needed it? Without food and water, you die, but to what degree do people need each other?" [p. 265]. How does the novel itself answer this question? In what instances does the need for human connection appear most strongly?

  6. In what different ways do Melvin, Cookie, Gigi, Miss Mary, Flannery, and Lona try to cope with the tragedy that has befallen them?

  7. During her confession, the priest tells Flannery that Rose's death was an accident, but she rejects this interpretation. "As far as Flannery was concerned, an accident was something you walked away from. Words mattered to her, as did accurate definitions, and what happened on her lawn had not been an accident" [p. 271]. In what sense was Rose's death not an accident? To what degree are both Melvin and Flannery responsible?

  8. Melvin tells Flannery, "I wonder what it says about you, that there are no happy endings. All your characters are left in some kind of pain." Flannery replies that "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's just like you agnostic types to see the pain, but not the transformation" [p. 84 - 85]. Does A Good Hard Look have a happy ending? Who among its main characters is transformed by the pain they suffer? Is Flannery herself transformed or does she serve more as an agent of transformation in others?

  9. What is it that leads Melvin to realize he has wasted his life? How does he respond to this epiphany?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Penguin Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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