9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 22 October 1998
So neglected and misleadingly categorised as a 'hip' writer of 60s issues, Didion deserves re-establishment in the forefront of contemporary writing. These essays are so exactly constructed, so tight and precise, that they undermine, simply in terms of form and structure, the cultural sloppiness that is so often her target. Quite simply, beautiful writing.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Didion is lauded as one of the great chroniclers of the 1960's in America and her journalism is undoubtedly brilliant. She writes coherently with a clear and personal style which is both attractive, intimate and inclusive. She talks to you as if you were a friend. This is great if you know some of the background to the things she is talking about, but wouldn't necessarily help you if you approached this with no prior knowledge of the events and history of the time. It's a great personal and cultural record of the time and a must read for anyone interested in the period.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2002
Hotbed of movies, political activism, rock and roll, drugs, and paranoia. A time both fascinating and bewildering, with anything liable to happen on any given day, just down the road - from cult murder to earthquakes. It takes a cool, detached prose style to capture all of this and keep it fresh for the reader visiting that strange time some thirty years later, but Didion's careful essays succeed. Compared to the freneticism of other writers documenting this era (Wolfe, Kesey, etc) she retains a measure of calm and the ability to catch the reader unawares with the unexpected detail which brings the scene to life. It paints a picture of a society stretching to reach its edge, finding freedoms it has been on the retreat from ever since.
Joan Didion always seems to look out at you from her book jackets in a straightforward, level-headed way, yet her readers will know she has a somewhat cockeyed view of life. Very Californian, as she quotes Bernard De Voto,"'The West begins, where the average annual rainfall drops below twenty inches." But hardly sunny, she's dark,dark: she has made the literature of nervous breakdown her own. We saw it in Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (FSG Classics); Play It As It Lays: A Novel; and A Book of Common Prayer; as in "The White Album," the book at hand here; essays first collected and published in 1979. She eyes the 1960s, and California, quite closely; she sketches the 1960's so well, in fact, she might almost have imaginatively invented them. It's all here, the Manson family, the Black Panthers, the historic doings at the University of California, Berkeley.
She says"...there were odd things going on around town. There were rumors. There were stories. Everything was unmentionable, but nothing was unimaginable. This mystical flirtation with the idea of 'sin'-- this sense that it was possible to go 'too far,' and that many people were doing it-- was very much with us in Los Angeles in 1968 and 1969. A demented and seductive vortical tension was building in the community. The jitters were setting in. I recall a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full. On August 9,1969, I was sitting in the shallow end of my sister-in-law's swimming pool in Beverly Hills when she received a telephone call from a friend who had just heard about the murders at Sharon Tate Polanski's house on Cielo Drive. The phone rang many times during the next hour. These early reports were garbled and contradictory. One caller would say hoods, the next would say chains. There were twenty dead, no, twelve, ten, eighteen. Black masses were imagined, and bad trips blamed. I remember all of the day's misinformation very clearly, and I also remember this, and wish I did not: I remember that no one was surprised."
She continues," Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true. The tension broke that day. The paranoia was fulfilled."
What an eye she has, what an ear, and what luck, too, right place at right time. And lucky us; she's given us so many reports from the front, wherever it may be, and of whatever it may consist. She continues to, still. I recently saw her speak at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair, on the UCLA campus, shortly after the death of her beloved husband, which she conveyed in such burning prose in The Year of Magical Thinking, her highly-recommended book on the subject. She was all there: her emotions, but also, her eye, and ear.