Joan Didion, Making the Sentence Chic

Ana Quiring in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Upon the death of Joan Didion at age 87 at the close of 2021, her admirers shared a common adoration for one facet of her genius. “Her sentences — dear Lord, her sentences!” wrote The New York Times’s Frank Bruni in a tribute published on Christmas Eve. Twitter accolades from poets, journalists, and fans echoed this praise, to such repetitive vehemence that LARB’s own Phillip Maciak tweeted, “Joan Didion is one of the greatest writers of sentences to ever live on planet Earth. Sentences are different now because of the way she wrote. SENTENCES!”

This repeated accolade makes sense for such an eminent and prolific American writer, one whose legacy was secured long before her death. Brian Dillon anticipated Didion eulogies by writing a chapter about her “prose like a shiny carapace” in his 2020 book about the art of the sentence. All this praise is also, of course, a spectacular neg — a backhanded compliment that lauds her craft without engaging her ideas. We avert our eyes from the content of Didion’s writing, or at least make it secondary to style.

More here.