South and West: From a Notebook
By Joan Didion
2017, 160 pages
Not a novel. Not a memoir exactly. More a series of notes about a trip Didion took with her husband through the South and some notes she made during the Patty Hearst trial that turned out to be about privileged young women growing up in California. The thesis of the book, if there is one, is that the culture of the South, however backwards we feel it is, is steeped in history and likely to endure, while that may not be true of California’s very different culture. It is really well written: sparse and precise and at times poetic.
This shouldn’t matter in evaluating a writer, but it affected my judgment: Didion was a very attractive young woman who grew up wealthy and well connected. I believe I wanted to dismiss her as trivial before I read her. I could not. She’s a serious thinker and a very smart and skillful writer.