Let me back up. Joan Didion is an icon in American letters, and yet this is my first experience reading her fiction. Everyone reveres her, but apparently no one ever reads her, or at least no one in my academic career bothered to teach any of her works. So I’m very late to the game.
Her prose is blistering and tight and I admire her style tremendously. I have a problem with the content, however, in that I couldn’t care less about any of the characters in the novel. In some sense, she develops them so little they are not even actualized people for me.
My problem with the marketing is this. They call the novel “a ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s… [it] captures the mood of an entire generation, the emptiness and ennui of contemporary society…” Bullshit.
This is a story about vacuous, self-absorbed, self-destructive Hollywood toddlers. There’s not a real person among them. In the late 1960s, our society was absorbed with the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam. That never even enters the book. If anything, it’s a “ruthless dissection” of a pathetic Hollywood culture, but that’s hardly emblematic of the larger society or representative of the national mood of the time.
Perhaps that’s unfair to Didion because she doesn’t say her book is any of those things. But for me it was waste of her prodigious talent to focus its scathing light on that tiny pathetic sliver of society. I’ll definitely need to read more of her works to see if this is typical of her body of writing or a one-off. But I’m having a hard time getting that book description out of my head. Maybe books should be published without covers or title pages?