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Joan Didion & Her Characters

- Abstract

TWO paradoxes characterize Joan Didion’s writing. The first concerns her subject matter. She is drawn to the timely-verging-on-fashionable-verging-on-chic,
to film stars and wealthy indolence and the sexuality of power. But unlike most writers who earn a living on the public’s hunger for the glamorous, she brings a moral consciousness to bear on these subjects: she is acutely judgmental, vulnerable, and can be shocked. This paradox has prompted some reviewers, in discussing her novel about Hollywood, Play It As It Lays (1970), to compare her to Nathanael West. But where West was scolding, Joan Didion is merely grouchy. She gives the impression, particularly in the essays collected in Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1970), of having come to judge the Zeitgeist but of finding it actually beneath judgment; she is too disgusted even to preach.

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