Ann Napolitano is brave. Fictionalizing a prominent person in history would make most writers nervous, but making that person such an important and central figure to the plot—well, I think many of us would prefer to leave that to the likes of Napolitano. In A Good Hard Look, Flannery O'Connor takes the stage with a backdrop of her hometown, Milledgeville, Georgia. O'Connor and Milledgeville are both crafted with great care and grace; it is evident the author not only researched her subjects, but handled them with great adoration and empathy.
A Good Hard Look is penned with great skill. Most outstanding is Napolitano's beautiful language, a myriad of well-placed and wonderfully chosen words. Also, worth noting are the perspectives. Her use of the alternating third-person is executed extremely well. In a novel such a this, timing is crucial, and I feel the author did a fabulous job knowing what character to follow and when to abandon ship.
For me, there is a shift in my feelings toward these characters midway through the novel. By no tricks of the author—just careful planning and raw talent—the characters who are reasonable become flawed; those who at first seem beyond redemption elicit my sympathies. This promotes the feelings of forgiveness at the novel's center without preaching and without excessive evidence of the author's hand.
Only months ago, I read O'Connor's collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find. I appreciated O'Connor's talent, but I didn't fall in love with the collection as I had hoped. I still wanted to read more O'Connor, but her works moved down my priority list considerably. Reading Napolitano's novel gets me in the mood to read O'Connor again. Anytime an author spends considerable time with an historical character, they should have strong feelings for the subject—either love or hate—otherwise the true person dissolves into a mere plot device. Those feelings should be evident to the reader. Napolitano makes Flannery very alive for me. And because of that, I am once again excited to read O'Connor. And even more excited to revisit Napolitano.