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Joan Didion is an elegant writer. Her observations are crystal clear and spot-on. So it is in this "book". Although the notes (especially from the South) are decades old (her trip was for a month in the 1970's), the knack she has for quick and accurate characterization and insight are evident.
This insight is also dated. The introduction and advertisement for this book refer to its relevance in today's political climate - Didion, it seems, was able to "see the future" in the old, weary, and cynical South rather than in the forward-looking West. That claim only goes so far, because it becomes evident very quickly that the South she visited for a short while then has changed in many ways.
Can these observations be interpreted as a foreshadow of today's divisions in the country? Sure, in a way. I'd argue that the real enlightenment here is in realizing just how the casual judgment and amused contempt Didion shows for the Southerners she meets and observes (between visits with celebrated writers, that is) certainly has helped foster the seemingly insurmountable anger by those who see themselves as overlooked by America. In her eagerness to hop a plane home to the West, she is a perfect example of the "red States'" view of the dismissive Coastal city intellectual.
I'm not from the South, and I share some of Didion's regional biases. Although drawn with appreciation and some sympathy, the people she meets and describes in her notes and anecdotes are presented as local color - as stereotypical "characters" of the rural South. And the "West" part of the volume is more an add-on than a real analysis of contrasts or differences between the regions
It's not fair, of course, to assume any book or article Joan Didion might have produced from her notes at the time would have been about stereotypes or filled with judgment. Yet, in this form, there it is!
I'm afraid that, despite the respect I have for the author, I can't recommend this book. It's very short and disconnected (understandably; these are "notes") and, it seems to me, really just adds up to an excuse to publish and sell an incomplete, unfinished manuscript as a book.
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