Joan Didion, ‘New Journalist’ Who Explored Culture and Chaos, Dies at 87

William Grimes in The New York Times:

Joan Didion, whose mordant dispatches on California culture and the chaos of the 1960s established her as a leading exponent of the New Journalism, and whose novels “Play It as It Lays” and “A Book of Common Prayer” proclaimed the arrival of a tough, terse, distinctive voice in American fiction, died on Thursday at her home in Manhattan. She was 87.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, according to an email sent by Paul Bogaards, an executive at Knopf, Ms. Didion’s publisher. Ms. Didion came to prominence with a series of incisive, searching feature articles in Life magazine and The Saturday Evening Post that explored the fraying edges of postwar American life. California, her native state, provided her with her richest material. In sharp, knowing vignettes, she captured its harshness and beauty, its role as a magnet for restless settlers, its golden promise and rapidly vanishing past, and its power as a cultural laboratory. “We believed in fresh starts,” she wrote in “Where I Was From” (2003), a psychic portrait of the state. “We believed in good luck. We believed in the miner who scratched together one last stake and struck the Comstock Lode.”

In two early groundbreaking essay collections, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” (1968) and “The White Album” (1979) she turned her cool, apprehensive gaze on the hippies of Haight-Ashbury, on eccentrics and searchers like Bishop James Pike and Howard Hughes, on the film industry in the post-studio era, and on the death-tinged music of the Doors. Ms. Didion’s reporting reflected Norman Mailer’s prescription for “enormously personalized journalism in which the character of the narrator was one of the elements in the way the reader would finally assess the experience.” Her attraction to trouble spots, disintegrating personalities and incipient chaos came naturally. In the title essay from “The White Album,” she included her own psychiatric evaluation after arriving at the outpatient clinic of St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica complaining of vertigo and nausea.

More here.