Southern writer appears in book that tries to define ‘a life well lived’

by Lynn Lofton

Published: July 31,2011

Tags: A Good Hard Look, Ann Napolitano, Book Biz, Flannery O’Connor

Northeasterner Ann Napolitano did not set out to write about one of our most cherished writers, Flannery O’Connor, and was surprised when O’Connor showed up as a character “out of the blue – creatively speaking.”

Napolitano is intrigued with the concept of a “well-lived life,” and that is a central theme of “A Good Hard Look”

“I can see that she (O’Connor) embodies for me this idea of a life well lived,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to live one’s life ‘well’ and the many different forms that this can take. It is far easier to recognize a well-lived life than to define what makes it so.”

“A Good Hard Look” is fiction and takes place in O’Connor’s hometown, Milledgeville, Ga., where reckless relationships lead to a tragedy that forever alters the town and the author herself. It’s full of grace and redemption with ordinary and extraordinary people charting their own courses through life. In the aftermath of one tragic afternoon, they are all forced to look at themselves and face up to O’Connor’s observation that “the truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.”

Lisa Newman of Lemuria Books in Jackson said, “I received an advance copy of this book and couldn’t put it down when I started reading it. This is a novel Mississippians and other Southerners should read for it does take ‘a good hard look’ at one of our most remarkable and talented Southern writers.”

Newman feels Napolitano handles the O’Connor character with respect. Crippled by lupus at age 25, O’Connor was forced to leave New York City and return home. With the illness she endured steroid shots, surgeries, blood transfusions, a strict diet and many medications. Her hair fell out temporarily, her face swelled, and she had to use metal crutches to walk. Through it all, she kept her sense of humor and kept writing. She also lived 13 years from the time she arrived back home even though medical specialists had given her five, dying at age 39.

In the novel, Napolitano has fictional characters, including Cookie Himmel, who embodies every facet of Southern womanhood that O’Connor lacks. Himmel returns to Milledgeville from Manhattan with a rich fiance, Melvin Whiteson. He wants to begin a new chapter in his life, but it is not until he meets O’Connor that he starts to take a good hard look at the choices he has made. Others in the small town also deal with the feeling that life is passing them by.

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