3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Some good essays in between some unengaging ones,
This review is from: Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Paperback)
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is "what was going on in California in 1968" and reads as a complete mix bag of tricks. There's a description of a murder trial, a wild goose chase through hippy and drug culture, a trip to Hawaii and a middle section "personals" which is about Didion's life. As a collection of articles rather than a story there are no characters to emphasise with- interest is purely concentrated on the subject Didion is discussing at the time. This makes it quite difficult to connect with the text despite the attempts of the author to include herself in the writings.
Another problem in reading this book is its place in time- it was written in 1968 for 1968- many of the people, ideas and places no longer have the importance they once did so the book reads like a piece of historic spectatorship. In understanding the late 1960's this is fine- but as someone who did not live through this time many references are lost on me, as I'm sure they would be on most people under 40.
Possibly the most engaging and dynamic piece in the book is its namesake Slouching Through Bethlehem which focuses on interviewing young, drugged up hippies and Didion's attempts to find them. What emerges most out of this chapter is the character of these people- they predominantly seem innocent and friendly if naive and disillusioned. There's an openness that exists among them even though some are heavy heroin users and as such have to break the law and live in squalor as a daily routine. This is where the book stands up and demands to be noticed. Didion seems to sympathise with these drop outs even though in her introduction she writes explicitly- "writers are always selling people out"- in this case she is defiantly not selling the people she has met out.
Didion suffered a stroke before writing Slouching Towards Bethlehem and subsisted off a daily intake of gin and painkillers to keep going. Her unfortunate circumstances it seems may have made her emphasise more with the hippies she met- they are the few human characters that can be perceived from her writings. In comparison the friends she sometimes mentioned are fleshless and two dimensional- it is clear what an impact the interviews she did made on her.
Slouching Through Bethlehem is a flawed work- there is a lack of cohesion between most of the essays in it. The few in which she shines- the fore mentioned being one and to name another: Rock of Ages a look at the empty Alcatraz prison are between unengaging pieces. An expansion of the good and editing down of the bad would have made the book far easier to read and filled in the gaps that infuriatingly feel empty in the treatment of hippy youth. This is a worth reading but somewhat lopsided work.