a Biography of Joan Didion

13Weiss-blog427Sasha Weiss at the New York Times:

Tracy Daugherty, the author of “The Last Love Song,” the first full-length biography of Didion, seems both intimidated by and worshipful of his subject, who chose not to cooperate with his project. He begins his book with a disclaimer: “Does a biography of a living person make sense? . . . Is the proper distance for evaluation possible now?” He attempts to reproduce “her mental and emotional rhythms” and to apply to her work her own literary methods “revealing the bedrock beneath layers of myth, gossip, P.R., self-promotion, cultural politics, competing notions of human nature.” Such a hedge followed by a lofty mission statement is unpromising, but you want to give Daugherty the benefit of the doubt. You want to know who Didion is, precisely because she hides in plain sight.

Didion became known for writing about the world in the first person. Whether her subject is the drifting confusions of the ’60s or the incursions of big industry on the California landscape, she herself is the probe. One of the great pleasures of reading her is watching the way she takes her own point of view as a given. But there is a fundamental unreliability at the center of “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and “The White Album,” the books that established her reputation: the gap between the natural authority with which she casts judgments and her professed nervous, quarrelsome self. It’s a gap that has always been enticing to Didion’s readers, and one we’d hope her biographer would plumb.

more here.