Joan Didion

No 7

Joan Didion

“Make no mistake, I only achieve simplicity with enormous effort
       Clarice Lispector, The hour of the star (Benjamin Moser Trans.) 

Joan Didion forged her style in the epigraphs she learnt to write for Vogue: the perfect rhythm, the obsessive search for words, the sharp, elegant images. Her political and cultural pieces offer the sensory pleasure of details: the white dress stained with wine in the definitive essay about the sixties, the yellow silk curtains tangled up in the rain that synthesize the melancholy of youth and New York, the snapshots kept in a box by the door, ready to run when the fire comes, ending her love letter to California.


She wrote The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) to describe what followed her husband’s death, the cognitive process of grief. Didion’s sophistication and journalistic rigor unfold as she casts a cold eye on all attempts of cathartic writing or, worse, of self-pity. Definition of self-pity: “the condition in which those feeling sorry for themselves indulge, or even wallow”. Nearly a crime. She prefers to dissect that form of madness, to dwell on the perks of congee rice, to list all the cognitive dislocations — the most infamous of which did not allow her to throw away his shoes in case he may come back —, to go over old etiquette books to see what they have to say about the proper treatment of grief. Just like in the John Wasser pictures, the ones with the Corvette, it seems a steel thread runs through her backbone.



The year of magical thinking, New York, Vintage Books, 2007 [2005]


Joan Didion
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