California is changing, and it upsets old folks.
Didion is clearly upset, like a variety of folks ranging in age from those of tender young years
to fossilized old fogies. They are hurt, bewildered, confused and made mad by change.
Arizons is flooded with refugees from California who want to go back to "the good old days"
-- they have utterly restored Prescott into a brand new Victorian town of the 1890s, and
they are now restoring the glory of the 1920s and 1930s in central Phoenix.
Like many of the elderly in mind, spirit and outlook, Didion regrets what is past. She doesn't
seem to understand that even if the future is different, it may be better. It's a story of her
family intertwined with modern California; both her ancestors and California are examples of
people constantly on the move in the search for something better -- even if they don't know
what that "something" might be, and even if they lose their heritage by moving.
Granted, Didion is the "intellectual" of the family. This book gave me the distinct impression
she'd be much happier, fulfilled and content if her ancestors had never left Alsace. Somehow
I doubt if she speaks German -- she wouldn't go back to Alsace unless she spoke German,
just to show the Frenchies that her past is more important than their conquests. So she did
the next best thing, and now lives in New York.
As a genuine New Yorker, which is not "her" city so she doesn't mind how it changes, she
offers a long recital of California happenings as seen by an original family and finds the state
much lacking since her departure. Any one of us, and I'm no exception, can return to our
"hometown" and find similar faults.
It's a nice book for tired old people waiting out their empty years in sterile nursing homes
where they lament the passing of the past. Even homebound grouches may find it interesting,
especially if they live in California.
There are flashes of insight, such as her descriptions of the Alameda Corridor, and the
Lakewood school sex scandal; but, she fails to draw any meaning from these events. Her
descriptions of the aircraft industry are interesting -- and exactly the same as I heard in the
1960s when I worked in the aircraft industry. Ho hum, it's a pity she never helped put
Perhaps it's because she doesn't understand herself, or her ancestors. She is the epitome of
the quintessential Californian, the daughter of a long line of "California" ancestors even when
they lived on the Virginia/Carolina frontier in 1766. As a Canadian, I'd describe her as
everything we expect Californians to represent; as a Californian, she is blind to personal
introspection as well as understanding herself and her state.
If you like moaning about the past, you'll love this book. Didion finds a lot to regret, and not
much of the modern to understand, an approach which many find attractive. If you can read
through her words, uncover the meanings hidden in her chronicle of complaint, you'll discover
the basics which made California a great state.