Gotham teacher Ann Napolitano's novel, A Good Hard Look, was recently published by Penguin Press.
The story is set in Milledgeville, Georgia, home to the legendary author Flannery O’Connor. In fact, O’Connor is one of the major characters in the book. The O’Connor character—finishing a novel and tending to a menagerie of peacocks—comes into contact with several other interesting characters, all of whom are forced to take a good hard look at their lives.
Book Reporter says, “Ann Napolitano has written a mesmerizing tale of southern life, ambition and destiny that will leave readers dazed and shaken, as if they’d stared directly into the Georgia sun.”
Take a gaze yourself. In this passage, Melvin Whiteson has a conversation with Flannery O’Connor:
Melvin cleared his throat. “I’m a little embarrassed to say that I didn’t know who you were when we first met. I hadn’t come across your work, but that’s because I’m not much of a fiction reader.”
Flannery touched her jawbone. She remembered the stabbing pain of a few weeks earlier, and the tediousness of having to lie still in bed. “Or maybe,” she said, “you hadn’t come across my work because I’m not much of a fiction writer. I’d tell you to ask around, but there’re only about six people in town who’ve actually read my books. Even my mother had a hard time getting through them.”
Melvin studied her, apparently trying to discern if she was kidding. It was his turn to think, This is a strange conversation.
Flannery was aware that she was talking mostly to amuse herself. She decided to let him off the hook. She said, “Miss Mary told us that you’re starting a new job.”
“That’s right. I’ve taken a position at Berenger’s.”
“They do insurance too.”
She tried to think what the polite response to this would be. All she could come up with was, That sounds terribly boring.
“Chuck’s phasing into retirement, so I’ll be running the office most of the time. I’ll have the option to buy the company if I want, later on.” He wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. “It should be an interesting challenge.”
“Really?” Flannery asked.
“I think so.”
“I would think you’d want to be certain, before signing on the dotted line. After all, this is your new life. Far from the big city, far from your old career. You don’t want to make a mistake.”
Melvin’s eyes were on the parade of birds traversing the lawn. “Do you talk to everyone like this?”
“So,” he hesitated, “candidly.”
Flannery felt the strange restlessness inside her again. She shifted in her chair. “We’re not fending off streams of visitors out here. But the answer is yes, if I find the person interesting.”
He smiled, as if the answer pleased him. “You think my taking the job at Berenger’s is a mistake?”
“I think you have options.”
“Like what? There aren’t many business openings in this area.”
“Have you considered not working?”
“You don’t need a job, do you? Aren’t you extremely rich?”
Melvin laughed. “You’re the first person to ask me that. People have been making veiled references to my financial state since I arrived.”
“Well, most folks are more polite than I am.”
“No kidding.” His face became more serious. “Obviously, money’s not the point. I can’t exactly sit around and do nothing. I need to fill my days.” He spread his hands. “I shouldn’t have to explain this. Every man worth his salt is employed in some capacity.”
Flannery regarded him. Cookie’s husband had the appearance of a man who looked no further than ten steps ahead. She could tell that he didn’t believe in God. Melvin would probably call himself agnostic if asked, unwilling to commit to there being no God at all, but also unwilling to seek him out.
She shook her head. Her mother liked to convert people, but that was not Flannery’s game. Her religion was part of her bones; it was the skeleton that held her up, that allowed her to engine through the days. Her belief was personal and private. As a Catholic in a town full of Protestants, there was no point in its being anything else. Her mother was willing to waste her breath; Flannery wasn’t.
“You could do anything,” she said. “People would cut off their right arm to be in your position.”
“Well, they should value their arms more highly.”
“You don’t have the measure of this town yet. There are a lot of people struggling here, and in their cases, money is always the point. How old are you? Thirty? Look at what God’s given you . . . a wife, a full bank account, health.” Flannery listened to herself talk, and frowned in disapproval. What was she doing, shaking a tree she had no business shaking? Still, she didn’t stop. “You don’t need to settle for anything,” she said. “In fact, it’s insulting to the rest of us if you do.”
Melvin’s eyes followed the General, who was bulldozing through a fat bush. “Insulting?”
“Isn’t that a bit strong?”
“Maybe.” Flannery grimaced. She realized how much she was enjoying this conversation, and the thought made her uncomfortable.
Reprinted by permission of Penguin Press. For more information on Ann and her book, visit annnapolitano.com