Didion's first book of essays established her as one of the smartest observers of the American character, especially as it unfolded against the backdr...moreDidion's first book of essays established her as one of the smartest observers of the American character, especially as it unfolded against the backdrop of the Sixties. Deeply grounded in the Central Valley of California where she grew up, Didion triangulated the changes primarily from LA and New York, but the title essay, an absolute classic, focuses on San Francisco during the period when the mythic Summer of Love was descending into thirty different types of chaos. Along with that one, the highlights for me are the introspective pieces "On Keeping a Notebook," "On Self-Respect," and "On Morality," each of them an "essay" in Montagne's sense of an attempt to write one's way into understanding. As the title, taken from Yeats' "The Second Coming" (written about the Russian revolution and later edited into "universality"), indicates, Didion's unsure whether she's watching the birth of something new and wonderful or simply living her way into chaos.
I hadn't remember how much of the book's about California, but she does a terrific job capturing the tension between the culture of the old families and small communities and the subdivided nightmares sweeping them out of memory.(less)