Words of a feather
If you're lucky enough to enjoy windows and natural light at work, you appreciate any vista from the world beyond fluorescent ceilings. A couple of days ago, a colleague pointed out an especially wonderful sight.
Parked across the street sat a spacious Cadillac, custom-painted a deep pink with coordinating rose leatherette top. Completing the look, a pair of impressively long horns curved atop the hood. To me, this unsubtle automotive décor advised, "I enjoy this car--and life."
Then, when the book I'd been waiting for arrived later that day, I had to smile at its similarly over-the-top book jacket. A defiant peacock, feet firmly planted along the edge of volume, stands unfurling tail feathers that cover the entire surface. Ann Napolitano's book designer made the perfect choice for A Good Hard Look.
Fans of Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) already know about her association with peacocks. Forced by lupus to leave New York City and return to her childhood home in rural Georgia, O'Connor continued writing. Having evidenced interest in birds since early childhood, she followed up on that, too, collecting and nurturing a variety of exotic species including dozens of peafowl.
Like their owner's writing, these birds command attention by combining harshness and finesse. An admirer of O'Connor (especially her short stories), I nonetheless find it very easy to imagine that many of her neighbors were horrified when they first sampled her critically acclaimed prose.
That's where A Good Hard Look comes in. Napolitano (who has clearly done her homework with regard to O'Connor's life and experience) imagines this scenario: Flannery, limited by chronic illness to a narrow existence in rural Milledgeville, witnesses the triumphant return of the much-admired former homecoming queen who chose to leave New York City and transplant her wealthy new husband.
Do privileged beauty queens read fine literature? Do they see themselves reflected in the pages? What other goings-on in this small town involve Flannery, her mother, and her peafowl? Does the author manage to incorporate fact and fiction into a page-turning, deeply involving read?
At this point, I should only answer the last question: Yes.