What We Get Wrong About Joan Didion

Nathan Heller at The New Yorker:

Didion, now eighty-six, has been an object of fascination ever since, boosted by the black-lace renaissance she experienced after publishing “The Year of Magical Thinking” (2005), her raw and ruminative account of the months following Dunne’s sudden death. Generally, writers who hold readers’ imaginations across decades do so because there’s something unsolved in their project, something that doesn’t square and thus seems subject to the realm of magic. In Didion’s case, a disconnect appears between the jobber-like shape of her writing life—a shape she often emphasizes in descriptions of her working habits—and the forms that emerged as the work accrued. For all her success, Didion was seventy before she finished a nonfiction book that was not drawn from newsstand-magazine assignments. She and Dunne started doing that work with an eye to covering the bills, and then a little more. (Their Post rates allowed them to rent a tumbledown Hollywood mansion, buy a banana-colored Corvette Stingray, raise a child, and dine well.) And yet the mosaic-like nonfiction books that Didion produced are the opposite of jobber books, or market-pitched books, or even useful, fibrous, admirably executed books. These are strange books, unusually shaped. They changed the way that journalistic storytelling and analysis were done.

more here.