Sunday, December 18, 2011

Just Shelved

The White AlbumThe White Album by Joan Didion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joan Didion has the same rare and inimitable style as Dame Rebecca West. She coolly observes the scene around her, and when she makes a pronouncement on anything--whether it be Jim Morrison, the Hoover Dam, shopping centers, or her own neuroses--she does so like someone ringing a clear, pure bell. It sounds, and it seems final; it seems bare and essential. I don't know how she manages to do this in such an economy of words, but she does. This collection of micro-essays comes together and does more than simply sketch the end of the sixties in Southern California; it does something more rare, imparts a flavor, a re-animation. One imagines Didion slipping into the background of any scene wearing huge glasses, able to seem both invisible and authoritative. I hope this bell continues to sound.

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My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book very quickly--it has one of those puzzlebox plots, where one awaits a conclusion that ties the intersecting storylines together. I would say it's enjoyable to read, and the prose is very smooth (lots of periodic sentences...don't fear the semi-colon or the dash, Nicole). Somewhere deep down, however, I didn't entirely buy it. The objects and personal failings/obsessions that catalyzed so much repetitive sorrow for the characters didn't seem believable to me. The voices of the characters themselves were engrossing--some more than others--and I believed in the grief of their pasts (except for the lady novelist who writes successfully from her ivory tower but bemoans her ability to connect with others). I don't believe in grief that's entirely organized around an object or destructive fixation, however. By the end of the book, the poor desk of Great House groaned beneath the weight of so much symbolic significance. I would still be interested to read other work by Krauss, however.

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