Friday Five

1. Peacocks. I’m thinking of peacocks because I just finished reading Ann Napolitano’s new novel A Good Hard Look, in which the birds figure prominently. The birds are owned by Flannery O’Connor, an author I greatly respect and admire, who appeared as a character in A Good Hard Look. In real life and in the book, Flannery lived in Milledgeville, Georgia, on Andalusia Farm and raised dozens of peacocks while battling the chronic illness of lupus.

The book opens with the wedding of Cookie Himmel, a beautiful Southern debutante concerned with appearances, and Melvin Whiteson, a wealthy New Yorker. They are settling in Milledgeville for good, and when Melvin meets Flannery he begins to take a “good, hard look” at his life. Cookie hires seamstress Lona Waters to help decorate her new home. There she decides to become an active, if not misguided, participant in her own life. Like most small towns, all of the characters’ lives are intertwined in that their fate seems to rest in each other’s hands.

A Good Hard Look is fiction, but I imagine it must have taken a lot of writerly courage to have an important American author as one of your main characters. Flannery wrote with such honesty about faith, forgiveness and redemption. Her word choices were meticulous and poetic; her dedication to her artistic vision unwavering. I worried a bit because I thought it would be difficult to avoid comparisons,  but as many reviewers mentioned, Ann Napolitano doesn’t mimic Flannery’s style or follow her footsteps into morbidity.

In the end, the reason I enjoyed A Good Hard Look had nothing to do with Flannery O’Connor. The story and the characters are compelling. Even if you’re not familiar with the author and her work, you’ll still be able to connect with the story and find the universal truth.

Here is one of Flannery O’Connor’s best known short stories: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” Every time I read it, I’m amazed by it. And here is an interview with author Ann Napolitano in which she discussed her approach in writing the book, and how Flannery suddenly “appeared” in the manuscript.

 

2. Reggie’s a star! He’s modeling his new martingale collar from Sirius Republic. Doesn’t he look dashing?

Please stop by the Sirius Republic web site to see Super Levi, the super foster dog of Two Pitties in the City. They’re co-sponsoring a raffle to help raise money for surgery to save Super Levi’s vision without which he will go blind. Here, you can see more photos of the handsome foster Super Levi, the awesome resident dogs, Ms. M and Mr. B, and find out more about the raffle. I’m hoping my raffle ticket wins Reggie one of those great backpacks!

3. November, by Mary Oliver      

The snow began slowly, 
a soft and easy sprinkling
of flakes,
then clouds of flakes
in the baskets of the wind
and the branches of the trees – 
oh, so pretty.
We walked 
through the growing stillness, 
as the flakes 
prickled the path,
then covered it, 
then deepened 
as in curds and drifts, 
as the wind grew stronger, 
shaping its work less delicately, 
taking greater steps
over the hills
and through the trees
until, finally, we were cold,
and far from home.
We turned and followed our long shadows back to the house, 
stamped our feet,
went inside, and shut the door.
Through the window we could see
how far away it was to the gates of April.
Let the fire now put on its red hat and sing to us. 
 

4. The one in which Freddy Kruger comes to get me. A friend and I had planned a relaxing, scenic girls’ weekend at a cottage in Woodstock, NY. Then, just a day before the getaway, she had to cancel. We’d lose our deposit if we didn’t go, so I thought maybe the universe was sending me a sign. Here is your opportunity to finish editing your novel! Yes! A few dedicated days with my nose to the grindstone and I could do it. This is my 4th pass and I was about halfway through. I could see the finish line!

So Reggie and I got there and settled in only to find the radiators weren’t working properly, as in not at all. Several space heaters had been provided, but the temperatures were well below freezing at 25 degrees (very rare for this time of year – see below). Still determined to use this opportunity to my advantage, I brewed some coffee, put on every piece of clothing I’d brought and cranked the space heaters to high. Condensation of ice crystals began building on the windows.

Then the electricity went out and I realized that with all of the space heaters plugged in I’d flipped the circuit breaker, which meant that the phone / internet router was also out. I fought the cobwebs in the basement to find the panel to switch it back on, but no luck. I was going to call the cottage owner, but there was no cell service on the mountain. No matter! I came here to edit, didn’t I? Now there were less distractions with pesky electricity.

Then it got dark…

Let’s recap. No cell phone. No electricity (in the living room area). No phone. No internet. And no neighbors. Nary a soul for as far as the eye could see. I looked out the window and couldn’t see one warm glow in a window or one orange orb of a street light. Did I mention it was Halloween?

Then I had to take Reggie out and I remembered the cottage owner’s warning. Don’t let him go beyond the gate and keep a flashlight with you because we see coyotes regularly. I could hear the snarky commentary of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys on this terrible B roll horror flick that had become my getaway.

Needless to say I didn’t get much writing done as tired as I was lying awake all night long, shivering.

But it was beautiful…in the daylight.

5. Snowtober. We got quite a snowstorm in the Northeast last weekend – a rare event for October. It was strange to see snow on pumpkins and mums. Just a few inches of snow fell around New York City, but some areas got well over a foot. With leaves still on most of the trees, the snow caused lots of downed trees and power lines. Two of my co-workers are still without electricity.

Do you have any fun autumn escapes planned?

Do you have any books to recommend? I’m creating my annual Great Books to Give and Get list for the holidays… 

Have a great weekend!

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25 comments

  1. Happy Friday to you, Jackie. I love Mary Oliver, but have not read that particular poem, so thanks for sharing it. Also, love Reggie’s new collar. I will check out the site you recommend. Have a great weekend.
    Kathy

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  2. Thanks for the link to Flannery O’Connor’s short story, and A Good Hard Look sounds wonderful.
    Love Reggie’s new collar, the poem by Mary Oliver (Let the fire now put on its red hat and sing to us.), and the photo of the snow on the pumpkin and mums.
    I hope this weekend treats you better than your get away weekend did!

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  3. As always, Jackie, you and Reggie are such special people, sharing your huge hearts! Thank you so much for telling me about Levi–I just sent a donation on behalf of my sister (and Olive, of course!) what a wonderful organization this must be.

    So glad Reggie was there for your Halloween adventure–brave boy that he is! And SO dashing in that new collar!

    Can’t believe you all had/have snow already!

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    1. Thank you! Thank you! My heart is so warmed by your generosity. Your contribution will get Super Levi that much closer to his much needed surgery to save his eyesight.
      I hope you and Olive have a “Super Levi” weekend. 🙂

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    1. I enjoyed your book so much, Ann! It was one that I couldn’t wait to get back to each day. I loved getting to know the characters. Thank you for putting that story into the world.

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  4. Funny how last Friday you showed pictures of the Halloween decorations, including one with ‘snow’. Who knew, eh?

    The cabin trip was fraught with frights! (smile) Wow. I commend you for staying the night, Jacquelin. Wow, I say again. *shudder*

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    1. So true Lenore! I wonder if that homeowner could predict the future. Or maybe is a weatherperson…
      Thanks for your confidence in me, but I was actually more scared to leave after it got dark than to stay!

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    1. The snow was so unexpected. I think it caught everyone off guard. I know several people who just got power back on today. Yikes.

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  5. Number four is pretty much how my life has been for most of the year – to say I can relate is an understatement! The isolation of the country must be especially weird coming from the contrast of New York. At least you had Reggie, your trusty attack-spaniel with you…

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    1. I think it must take some getting used to, especially when you’re usually living surrounded by so many people. Did it take you a while to get used to it?
      The peace and quiet was lovely, but I think my imagination got the better of me. Reggie is a great lookout in between naps. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Caroline. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets. Almost everything she writes speaks to me.
      I wonder if you’re getting snow already? How early do you normally get the first snow?

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      1. Jackie, usually we don’t get snow before February and not a lot, one week. I’m in the so-called flatland on the French/German border, no mountains.
        I have to confess I ordered a book by Mary Oliver. I’m looking forwad to it.

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      2. I hope that you enjoy Mary Oliver’s poetry as much as I do. I find her word choices and images simple yet powerful and thought provoking. I’m looking forward to getting your take on the book.

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