What nerve Ann Napolitano has. It takes nerve to write a novel with Flannery O’Connor as a main character. To set much of the story in O’Connor’s hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia and Andalusia, O’Connor’s farm. To take on the very themes that O’Connor explored with such artistry: death, grace, faith, forgiveness, redemption. To write characters whose lives will change in a second, whose fate will hinge on small moments with unthinkable consequences. A stolen kiss in a car, the spreading of a blanket on the ground, the offer to lend a suit. To do all this and know that your novel will be compared with, contrasted to, and judged alongside the life and work of one of the very best American writers of the twentieth century.
If you haven’t already figured it out, I am a big fan of O’Connor’s. She is one of the main reasons for my love of the short story form; I wholeheartedly recommend her award-winning Complete Stories.
So I admit to opening this novel with some trepidation. I wanted it to do right by Flannery O’Connor. I didn’t want a woman so precise with her words, so uncompromising in her artistic vision, to play a part in a book that didn’t live up to her standards. And I’m grateful to report that she doesn’t.
The story is told from the point of view of several characters. Their stories are woven together, strand by strand, culminating in a truly moving denouement that does justice to the very themes O’Connor spent her life exploring. There were scenes in this book where I was amazed at how powerfully the dialogue evoked the spirit of O’Connor’s writing.
I salute Napolitano for her fortitude. I can only imagine how daunting it must have been to write a novel with Flannery O’Connor watching your every move. So let me reiterate, with complete admiration. Ann Napolitano must have nerves of steel.