My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm a Joan Didion fan, primarily because of the way she uses language. She creates breezy, yet complex sentences that are not at all pretty in their depiction of the oddness of reality. And she uses repetition in a way that drives home what she wants to say, rather than in a way that irritates, as in the case of the opening of her novel Democracy:
The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see.
Something to behold.
Something that could almost make you think you saw God, he said.
He said to her.
Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor.
Inez Victor who was born Inez Christian.
In such novels she alludes to exotic islands locales and strange, subtly dangerous situations, the vagueness of which seems the biggest threat, since the characters can't be sure about if, when or how they'll be hit. All they suspect is that the probability is high.
I wondered how she achieved that affect — of not giving me quite enough information, yet compelling me to continue — until I read Salvador, her essay-length book of her journey during the early 1980s to El Salvador during a civil war in which nobody was sure of the who the enemy was, or more disturbing, why so many people were being disappeared at a time when the Reagan Administration was insisting all was on the brink of getting so much better.
The numbers, the money, dates, incidents: everything of that time and place, according to Didion, was open to interpretation, leaving the country without any reliable information, except for the fact there were bodies left on the road — almost any road you took — every day.
She used that steamy, tropical atmosphere, along with the hotels where she stayed and the vague statements of the officials she talked to in her novels Democracy and Play It As It Lays, and even to some degree inThe Year of Magical Thinking about when her husband died.
If you're a reader who loves Didion and finding the source of an author's inspiration, Salvador might be the book for you.
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