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1001 book reviews > Democracy by Joan Didion

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Liz M | 194 comments Why it is included in the 1001 list: "{It} is an explicitly experimental novel and Didion's fusion of genres and literary devices gives a fascinating insight into both her creativity and the backrooms of American politicking."

The story is generally that of Inez Victor. A beautiful young women from a wealthy, renowned Hawaiian family, she becomes a model and later marries a college boy that goes into politics. Other fragments include her sister, her grown children, her husband's political handler, a C.I.A. operative, her uncle, and the author representative that narrates the novel. There is also an explanation of how difficult it is to shape this story and an explanation of what other novels it could have been. But most of all it is a rumination about how life lived in the public eye fragments and distorts reality.

This is a strange, wondrous story. M. McCarthy in the New York Times described it as a jigsaw puzzle, an apt analogy, as the story is presented one piece at a time. Each fragment is an image, a perfect moment, but they are presented out of order and repeated as a second piece elucidates an earlier piece. I am still not sure I understand the plot, such as it is, but the writing is so phenomenal that I don't care.

Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments 3.5 stars.

This is an odd book, with a unique narration. Parts of it involve moments when the author breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the reader, and the rest is mostly told in a peak-at-the-journal style. The writing was beautiful and the story intriguing, but the quirky story-telling style was a bit off-putting for me.

Diane Zwang | 1214 comments Mod
Democracy by Joan Didion
2.5 rounded up to 3

The author's profile page states: “Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.”

Joan Didion's writing style is very different, rapid fire sentences are short and to the point. The quote from the author's page fits this book to a T. I never really connected to this story or any of the characters. It is about a dysfunctional family and the story is about “disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos.” It also takes place during the turbulent times of the Vietnam War.

Part one
“After the events which occurred in the spring and summer of 1975 I thought of it differently. I thought of it as the essential mechanism for living a life in which the major cost was memory. Drop fuel. Jettison cargo. Eject crew.”

Part two
“You were only the voice of a generation that had taken fire on the battlefields of Vietnam and Chicago after you knew you didn't have the numbers. In addition to which. Moreover. Actually that was never your generation. Actually you were older.”

I enjoyed the documentary “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” much more than I enjoyed this book. Her writing style, at least in this book, is not for me.

Patrick Robitaille | 904 comments ****

The first striking aspect of this novel is the writing style; considering that it was written in 1984, you could easily think that Didion was inspired by the prevalent artistic mode of the time, the video-clip. Or it almost felt like a scrap-book, built little by little by apposing pictures, comments, dialogues, until it forms a more coherent story. Or "glimpses", to use the author's words in one of her several direct interventions in the narrative.

The second striking aspect resides in the weaving of the characters (especially Inez Victor and Jack Lovett) into the intricate and opaque net of politics, not just on the surface, but mainly into its murkiest levels, official and non-official. The timing of my reading this novel could not have been more timely and topical; you could easily substitute the events of the ignominous Vietnam evacuation by the Americans in 1975 by the events of the no-less ignominous Afghanistan evacuation by the Americans in 2021; you would probably find contemporary versions of all the characters of this novel operating on the same levels and performing seemingly the same roles.

At the end of the novel, you are left wondering about the deep motivations of the main characters and what is really meant as Democracy. Lots to ponder.

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