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Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband's handler would like the press to forget that Inez's father is a murderer. And, in 1975, the year in which much of this bitterly funny nov Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband's handler would like the press to forget that Inez's father is a murderer. And, in 1975, the year in which much of this bitterly funny novel is set, America is doing its best to lose track of its one-time client, the lethally hemorrhaging republic of South Vietnam.As conceived by Joan Didion, these personages and events constitute the terminal fallout of democracy, a fallout that also includes fact-finding junkets, senatorial groupies, the international arms market, and the Orwellian newspeak of the political class. Moving deftly from Honolulu to Jakarta, between romance, farce, and tragedy, Democracy is a tour de force from a writer who can dissect an entire society with a single phrase.


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Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband's handler would like the press to forget that Inez's father is a murderer. And, in 1975, the year in which much of this bitterly funny nov Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband's handler would like the press to forget that Inez's father is a murderer. And, in 1975, the year in which much of this bitterly funny novel is set, America is doing its best to lose track of its one-time client, the lethally hemorrhaging republic of South Vietnam.As conceived by Joan Didion, these personages and events constitute the terminal fallout of democracy, a fallout that also includes fact-finding junkets, senatorial groupies, the international arms market, and the Orwellian newspeak of the political class. Moving deftly from Honolulu to Jakarta, between romance, farce, and tragedy, Democracy is a tour de force from a writer who can dissect an entire society with a single phrase.

30 review for Democracy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Damn, so many of the reviews for this book are terrible. I kind of want to get a gazillion votes for this review just so that it will come before some of the nonsense in the other reviews. Any talk of post-modernism or meta-fiction or there being too many characters in this novel (there aren't that many, more than say the one in certain Beckett works, but less than in a Dickens or Pynchon novel), also plug the ears in your head that listen when you are reading to any of cries that the book is du Damn, so many of the reviews for this book are terrible. I kind of want to get a gazillion votes for this review just so that it will come before some of the nonsense in the other reviews. Any talk of post-modernism or meta-fiction or there being too many characters in this novel (there aren't that many, more than say the one in certain Beckett works, but less than in a Dickens or Pynchon novel), also plug the ears in your head that listen when you are reading to any of cries that the book is dull or that harp too heavily upon the plot for better or for worse. Just ignore all that stuff (and probably most of what I'm going to say too, but not really because I want you to read this and I want your vote, it's important to me to get ahead of these other reviews). The only thing you need to know about this book is that it is crushingly beautiful. Not flowery pretty, or the literary equivalent of some replaceable blond starlet that graces the cover of gossip mags; but awkwardly gorgeous, insert your own parallelism to the blond starlet here. The book starts: The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see. Something to behold. Something that could almost make you think you saw God, he said. He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor. Inez Victor who was born Inez Christian. These short sentence long paragraphs could have been condensed into something like, "The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see. They were something to behold and almost make you think you saw God," Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor (nee Christian). Instead, Didion pulls the reader immediately into an intimacy between the two characters. Without having to say it the signals are present that these people share a closeness, it's like some of the great opening sentences from Raymond Carver stories that paint whole nuanced paintings with broadly sparse paint strokes. It's never said where Jack Lovett says these words to Inez Victor, who was born Inez Christian, but the repetitions that move slowly in on to the subjects being said feel like an intimacy of two people laying close to one another, as opposed to the simple way I rewrote this section to read like something someone is saying to someone someplace that could be anyone and anywhere. I love the way she opens this book, and I'd go quoting a bit more, but at the next line she pulls back the perspective a little and gives a longer paragraph describing parts of the scene surrounding a the atomic bomb tests, and I don't really like quoting long blocks of text. Throughout the book, Didion moves between different perspectives, controlling them through the way she chooses to write, instead of always having to explicitly state what she is trying to achieve. She does get explicit at times, and some reviewers seemed to find this annoying since she inserts herself, as the author, into the work, but I'd argue it isn't a literary trick she's pulling but uses it as a way to move about the themes of the novel. If the story were told from a traditional third person point of view quite a bit would be lost. Partially this is a novel about perspective, about the past and history and stories and it's about myths, and where the truth lies between all of what I just rambled out like a grocery list. I feel like I'm sort of rewriting my defense of the narrator for the YA book, The Book Thief. I guess I am. Good read that review for some more on this I guess. This isn't an exciting book. The basic plot of the whole novel is given in the first couple of chapters. Most of the story the reader knows before the book is half-way through. Roughly it's about some events that happen in the Spring of 1975 as the United States is preparing to evacuate from Vietnam. The historical events taking place are mixed with the personal lives of the characters and the reader is left to draw the lines between macro and micro happenings and can use the books title Democracy as an ideal and an irony when applied to an export to third world countries at the barrel of a gun to construct a myriad of themes. There are quite a few different readings this book could be given, and for such a short novel Didion manages to pack a lot of big Ideas into the work. Even though there are a lot of big Ideas at work Didion never grabs the reader and forces him or her to have to confront them. The novel could be enjoyed as a love story, or a family tragedy; or as a slightly more humanist perspective to the world that James Ellroy's Blood's a Rover frolics in. But none of that last paragraph is really that important to know. What is important to know is that the book is gorgeous. It's the kind of book that can be savored for the way the author deftly moves along, I guess like literature for literatures sake. I'd almost not want to recommend other people to read it, I might feel hurt if they didn't find it as good as I did, but I will recommend it. But only to readers who I know aren't reading novels just to get from point A to point B. P.S. I kind of want to read everything by Joan Didion now. I think she might even move into my favorite writers category. Sort of like Don DeLillo and Cynthia Ozick, I just didn't pay much attention to her and now I think I might have been depriving myself of something awesome. I'm going to cautiously call her an up and coming favorite of mine until I read a couple of more books. It makes me so happy when I realize there are great writers whom I never paid much attention to and now I can look forward to reading them.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jola

    At first sight the words charm and harm differ in one letter only but the contrast in their meaning is dramatic. Strangely enough, 'Democracy' by Joan Didion has charmed me and harmed me at the same time. ‘Democracy’ has charmed me. The first thing that enchanted me instantly was Joan Didion’s writing style. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. The unsettling, highly addictive rhythm of her sentences, with many cadenced repetitions and anaphoras, resonated with me like music which go At first sight the words charm and harm differ in one letter only but the contrast in their meaning is dramatic. Strangely enough, 'Democracy' by Joan Didion has charmed me and harmed me at the same time. ‘Democracy’ has charmed me. The first thing that enchanted me instantly was Joan Didion’s writing style. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. The unsettling, highly addictive rhythm of her sentences, with many cadenced repetitions and anaphoras, resonated with me like music which goes smoothly straight to your heart. I was flabbergasted by Didion’s ability to affect me so much with so few words. Isaac Babel points out, 'No iron can stab the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place' and it seems so true in Joan Didion's case also. Although 'Democracy' provokes strong emotions, it’s far from sentimental. Her style is harsh at times, like her characters. Ah, the way she depicts the feelings flowing between Inez and Jack every time they meet! It made me think of 'Casablanca': scarce words, extreme tension. The descriptions in "Democracy' are concise but the world she paints with words bursts with colours and smells: 'When Inez remembered that week in Jakarta in 1969 she remembered mainly the cloud cover that hung low over the city and trapped the fumes of sewage and automobile exhaust and rotting vegetation as in a fetid greenhouse. She remembered the cloud cover and she remembered lightning flickering on the horizon before dawn and she remembered rain washing wild orchids into the milky waste ditches.' Trying to analyze the mechanisms Joan Didion uses to make her prose so original and mesmerizing, would be like catching her words in the net and pinning them like exotic butterflies. Sorry, I’m not going to do that. I prefer to let them float around me and watch them in awe and just sense them with delight. As for topics and genres, “Democracy” reminds me of a multilayered cake. Don’t expect any sweetness though! It’s more like a strong espresso which will burn your lips and make your heart pulsate faster. You will discover many floors of Didion's amazing construction. Politics, modern history, family, love, writing a novel, being a writer, to name just a few. It’s a novel, a love story, a crime story, a reportage and an essay at the same time. The narrator is Joan Didion herself who happens to know some characters in person and who shares thoughts about creating this novel and writing in general. The structure of 'Democracy' made me also think of a film. Gosh, the scene in the bar could be dazzling, with Inez dancing not as 'you or I or the agency that regulated dancing in bars might have defined dancing'. My experience with this novel proves that reaching out of comfort zone can be extremely rewarding. It was Orsodimondo, who got me interested in Joan Didion’s works, and I am very grateful for his encouragement. ‘Democracy’ has harmed me. Everything I try to read now seems tasteless and colourless compared to Joan Didion’s novel.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mitchell

    When I first read this book in 1984 I was absolutely staggered. Immediately, I flipped back to the beginning and read it again. I'm sure I've read it a couple of more times since, and this latest re-read has merely confirmed that this must be my all-time favorite book. Although I've been land-locked for the past number of years, I am -- in essence -- a person of the Pacific, and Didion's book IS the Pacific. Still, it's a complicated little book and demands more from the reader than most. One mus When I first read this book in 1984 I was absolutely staggered. Immediately, I flipped back to the beginning and read it again. I'm sure I've read it a couple of more times since, and this latest re-read has merely confirmed that this must be my all-time favorite book. Although I've been land-locked for the past number of years, I am -- in essence -- a person of the Pacific, and Didion's book IS the Pacific. Still, it's a complicated little book and demands more from the reader than most. One must pay attention to all the tiny details and have more than a passing knowledge of the locales -- from Hawaii, to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and the scattered islands in between (Guam, Kwajalein, Johnston) -- including the names of the airports, the capitals and the history of these places in the 50s, 60s, 70s. The title is curious. I've never heard a definitive explanation for it, only hints of it being compared to Henry Adams' book of the same title. My take is that it's an ironic title. The book is actually about American colonialism -- our original takeover of Hawaii and our hubris in thinking a war in Vietnam was 1) winnable and 2) appreciated by that country. But mostly I love this book for the sound of it -- the prose is like poetry and begs to be read aloud. It is, in fact, a mystery, a romance, and a political critique -- but clothed in shear elegance.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kyle

    Structurally this book sort of demolished my mind. I'm in awe. Structurally this book sort of demolished my mind. I'm in awe.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    The first meeting of Inez Christian and Jack Lovett at the ballet - the beginning of Lovett's "grave attraction" that would last over twenty years - is the sexiest scene I've read in a while: Cissy Christian smoking a cigarette in her white jade holder. Inez, wearing dark glasses...pinning and repinning a gardenia in her damp hair. This is our niece, Inez, Dwight Christian said. Inez, Major Lovett. Jack. Inez, Mrs. Lovett. Carla. A breath of air, a cigarette. This champagne is lukewarm. One glass The first meeting of Inez Christian and Jack Lovett at the ballet - the beginning of Lovett's "grave attraction" that would last over twenty years - is the sexiest scene I've read in a while: Cissy Christian smoking a cigarette in her white jade holder. Inez, wearing dark glasses...pinning and repinning a gardenia in her damp hair. This is our niece, Inez, Dwight Christian said. Inez, Major Lovett. Jack. Inez, Mrs. Lovett. Carla. A breath of air, a cigarette. This champagne is lukewarm. One glass won't hurt you, Inez, it's your birthday. Inez's birthday. Inez is seventeen. Inez's evening, really. Inez is our balletomane. "Why are you wearing sunglasses," Jack Lovett said. Inez Christian, startled, touched her glasses as if to remove them and then, looking at Jack Lovett, brushed her hair back instead, loosening the pins that held the gardenia. Inez Christian smiled. The gardenia fell into the wet grass. "I used to know all the generals at Schofield," Cissy Christian said. "Great fun out there. Then." "I'm sure." Jack Lovett did not take his eyes from Inez. "Great polo players, some of them," Cissy Christian said. "I don't suppose you get much time to play." "I don't play," Jack Lovett said. Inez Christian closed her eyes. Carla Lovett drained her paper cup and crushed it in her hand. "Inez is seventeen," Dwight Christian repeated. "I think I want a real drink," Carla Lovett said.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    4.5 rounded up One to re-read and re-visit for sure, but I found Didion's 1984 novel Democracy to be smart, perceptive and more multilayered than it perhaps first comes across. Apparently the novel takes it's name from Henry Adams novel of the same title which tackles corruption under the second Adam's administration, and I think if you're familiar with the political climate of 1970s America and the Vietnam War then you'll likely "get" this novel more than I did. Regardless, Didion's writing shi 4.5 rounded up One to re-read and re-visit for sure, but I found Didion's 1984 novel Democracy to be smart, perceptive and more multilayered than it perhaps first comes across. Apparently the novel takes it's name from Henry Adams novel of the same title which tackles corruption under the second Adam's administration, and I think if you're familiar with the political climate of 1970s America and the Vietnam War then you'll likely "get" this novel more than I did. Regardless, Didion's writing shines, and because of this and the clever structure it's possible to get enjoyment out of the Democracy without this knowledge.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Sciuto

    In a review of another book by Joan Dodion, I said if one was willing to go back and re-read parts of the book that didn't make much sense, or simply re-read the entire book one might truly realize how great a book it was. The same can be said for her book, "Democracy." The first fifteen to twenty pages of this book were quite confusing, made especially so by the author switching from first person to third person narrative. But once this reviewer went back and re-read those pages, I was surprisin In a review of another book by Joan Dodion, I said if one was willing to go back and re-read parts of the book that didn't make much sense, or simply re-read the entire book one might truly realize how great a book it was. The same can be said for her book, "Democracy." The first fifteen to twenty pages of this book were quite confusing, made especially so by the author switching from first person to third person narrative. But once this reviewer went back and re-read those pages, I was surprisingly enlightened by the author's approach. There are other difficult passages throughout the book, but I simply went back and re-read them and understood their importance. Now, this might seem a little too much for a lot of readers and I totally understand. Yet, for me, the inconvenience was worth the reward, and in the end I loved this book and the craftsmanship and the scope of the book I found fascinating. She deftly connects the political, with the military, and the corruption, and the black market used to peddle drugs and weapons toward the end of the Vietnam war. The characters are somewhat offbeat, but that is how they are able to survive in this devious world and in the professions they have chosen. There are code names for everyone and everything and nothing appears completely transparent. A Fascinating Book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    At nearly the halfway point (the Intermission?) of Democracy Didion, in a meta moment warns (or reminds) the reader with "I am resisting narrative here." She's not lying. Actually, the reader is placed on notice as early as chapter 2 where the author seems triggered by some images from a Wallace Stevens' poem toward writing, in a half assed way, a novel. But, "[c]ards on the table," she informs the reader she's at a point in her life where she (Didion) lacks "certainty." But Vietnam, even ten ye At nearly the halfway point (the Intermission?) of Democracy Didion, in a meta moment warns (or reminds) the reader with "I am resisting narrative here." She's not lying. Actually, the reader is placed on notice as early as chapter 2 where the author seems triggered by some images from a Wallace Stevens' poem toward writing, in a half assed way, a novel. But, "[c]ards on the table," she informs the reader she's at a point in her life where she (Didion) lacks "certainty." But Vietnam, even ten years out (Democracy came out in 1984) would be hard to sort out. Maybe it was writer's block, maybe she was hoping to write another zeitgeist novel, like her terrific send-up of the sixties, Play It as It Lays. Who knows? All of that said, Didion then launches the construction of her main characters, soldier of fortune type, Jack Lovett and (the very Didion-like) Inez Victor, wife of a failed politician. She actually gets off to an interesting and evocative start with family history, money, clothes (lots of them), but as this short novel unfolds Didion relies more and more on fast-moving dialogue (she's a master), and quickly changing events without the necessary connective tissue of narrative. There's a murder or two, and on the periphery of things the fall of Vietnam (it's 1975). I suppose there could be a metaphor in there, but I don't really care. The novel fails, and if it wasn't for Didion's name and fame, this book would have long faded from memory as an out-of-print item. Yes, I did give it two stars. Didion is a first-rate writer with a bad novel. You can still find some great moments and conversations, even if as a whole the novel is thin and unsatisfying. If you want a savage and excellent home-front book on Vietnam and its moral costs, I recommend Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Krystal

    This is a novel about memory, personal and political. It is a masterpiece. Democracy is Joan Didion’s fourth novel, preceded by Run River, Play It As It Lays and A Book of Common Prayer. It was published in 1984. The novel takes place between Honolulu and Jakarta at the hemorrhaging end of the Vietnam War. It is written as a kind of memoir of Inez Victor, wife of U.S. Senator Harry Victor, told from the perspective of a peculiar narrator. The narrator is none other than Joan Didion. She is also This is a novel about memory, personal and political. It is a masterpiece. Democracy is Joan Didion’s fourth novel, preceded by Run River, Play It As It Lays and A Book of Common Prayer. It was published in 1984. The novel takes place between Honolulu and Jakarta at the hemorrhaging end of the Vietnam War. It is written as a kind of memoir of Inez Victor, wife of U.S. Senator Harry Victor, told from the perspective of a peculiar narrator. The narrator is none other than Joan Didion. She is also the self-conscious author of the novel and explains to the reader how this narrative could have been written differently, interjecting the authorial voice within its narrative. It is a stunning literary achievement and this device is remarkably effective. I found myself reading passages twice as she talks about how they were constructed and why. The technique is so effective that you’ll be craving its craftiness in whatever you read next.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kim Fay

    As much as I am a fan of "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," I think that this is my favorite Joan Didion book. It presumes so much on the part of the reader -- that we already know about the intricacies of the characters' lives and the underbelly of the Vietnam War, and more so, that we care about any of it. In this book, Didion does not seem to write at all for the reader. She seems to be writing to answer some question whispering to her inside her own thoughts. While the novel "The Descendants" (I As much as I am a fan of "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," I think that this is my favorite Joan Didion book. It presumes so much on the part of the reader -- that we already know about the intricacies of the characters' lives and the underbelly of the Vietnam War, and more so, that we care about any of it. In this book, Didion does not seem to write at all for the reader. She seems to be writing to answer some question whispering to her inside her own thoughts. While the novel "The Descendants" (I read the book and saw the movie) clearly strives to explain/explore/speak to the bizarre aristocracy/social hierarchies of the Hawaiian Islands, "Democracy" is the book to turn to if a person wants a truly insightful view into this world (not to mention the worlds of politics and dysfunctional families). Because, as with any insider, this book does not give away all of its secrets. It builds a (very loose) foundation based on the murder of the daughter of a prominent Hawaii family (she is also the sister-in-law of a prominent senator), then skims and skirts around this event with a litheness and absolute disinterest in me as the reader that makes me green with envy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    M.L. Rio

    This book is so strange, but if you're a writer you should read it. This book is so strange, but if you're a writer you should read it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Aaron J. Clark

    I don't usually mind when writers insert themselves into their own work. I generally like postmodern fiction/metafiction. I also appreciate it when an author intentionally plays with the traditional "linear" narrative, when "plot" is not "beginning, middle, and end", in that order. Didion does all of those things in Democracy, and she is obviously a talented writer, yet Democracy just doesn't "do" it for me. In Democracy, she comes off as an egotist in her intrusions and ramblings, and she isn't I don't usually mind when writers insert themselves into their own work. I generally like postmodern fiction/metafiction. I also appreciate it when an author intentionally plays with the traditional "linear" narrative, when "plot" is not "beginning, middle, and end", in that order. Didion does all of those things in Democracy, and she is obviously a talented writer, yet Democracy just doesn't "do" it for me. In Democracy, she comes off as an egotist in her intrusions and ramblings, and she isn't really saying anything new here. Three stars might be generous.

  13. 4 out of 5

    elisabeth

    Not to be a lesbian, but I love Joan Didion.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    I imagine the book was innovative and creative even when it was published, but it's still pretty creative and clever. Didion is a brilliant writer and a pleasure to read. I imagine the book was innovative and creative even when it was published, but it's still pretty creative and clever. Didion is a brilliant writer and a pleasure to read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Wilder

    Sublime. Didion probably doesn’t know Marguerite Duras, and probably wouldn’t like her work if she did, but this is a gorgeous American palimpsest of Durasian ideas and styles: call it VIETNAM SONG.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paul Frandano

    Ah...Joan Didion’s Democracy…opaque, discursive, mysterious, hums with a sense of quietly lurking menace, fragmented time, a time, Didion observes...as "Joan Didion," inserting herself into her work of fiction, an observer in this novel, who is relating her imaginative yarn as a journalist's quest for an assembled-and-organized meaning, a "Rosebud," to all these disparate snippets of time, place, personality, calling cards, rumors, last-minute flights to exotic destinations, press clippings, pho Ah...Joan Didion’s Democracy…opaque, discursive, mysterious, hums with a sense of quietly lurking menace, fragmented time, a time, Didion observes...as "Joan Didion," inserting herself into her work of fiction, an observer in this novel, who is relating her imaginative yarn as a journalist's quest for an assembled-and-organized meaning, a "Rosebud," to all these disparate snippets of time, place, personality, calling cards, rumors, last-minute flights to exotic destinations, press clippings, photos, oddly angled interviews, flash back, flash forward, all against the backdrop of the 1975 American evacuation from Southeast Asia...a time, a fantastic time, captured in the detached, almost surreal DidionVoice, observently, taking all into consideration as what one character notes as "'the long view' (by which) I (Didion) believe she meant history, more exactly the particular undertow of having and not having, the convulsions of a world largely unaffected by the individual efforts of anyone in it," a characterization various men and women of a certain disposition, including a central character, the well-heeled political wife Inez Christian Victor, tend to deny by virtue of their own experiences but yet are randomly, indiscriminately swept up in... This is a novel of ellipses. Things fall apart, but they also trail off… Haunting, with sentences so sharp and surprising and economical and hinting at such depths of facticity and reasoned consideration that I had to stop and stare at these...these...these gists of worlds below the surface, trying to imagine how Didion manages to thread so much together into tight, lucid epigrams and aphorisms. That said, a Didion “like” does not mean “for every taste.” She seems to piss off as many people as she delights. I'm a Vietnam-era vet, and the evacuation is vivid in my memory, as is the surreality of Michael Herr’s Dispatches and Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato, and there were still Jack Lovett-style cowboys/international men of mystery aboard when I joined the US intelligence community. I enjoyed—no, I delighted in--the book's patient, deflecting discursiveness more than most readers will. Reviewers go off on her for her seemingly random structures. As some literatus has blurbed on the back cover, "Didion can dissect an entire society with a single phrase." Well, here, she dissects a world at a very specific moment in chaotic time. I’m absolutely stuck on Joan Didion and have begun ripping through her oeuvre, fact, fiction, essays and all. I really go for her gonzo style…

  17. 4 out of 5

    John

    Warning! Metafiction ahead. A fascinating novel of rich people behaving badly during a dark time in US History (the fall of Saigon). As usual, Didion is an excellent prose stylist, and is even a character in the novel (hence my metafiction warning). The first 2 chapters of the book are very difficult to understand, but mercifully short. After that the book picks up. Contains an excellent description of a wealthy Hawaii (Oahu) family, so fans of Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants) will probably f Warning! Metafiction ahead. A fascinating novel of rich people behaving badly during a dark time in US History (the fall of Saigon). As usual, Didion is an excellent prose stylist, and is even a character in the novel (hence my metafiction warning). The first 2 chapters of the book are very difficult to understand, but mercifully short. After that the book picks up. Contains an excellent description of a wealthy Hawaii (Oahu) family, so fans of Kaui Hart Hemmings (The Descendants) will probably find something to like here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Keith Brooks

    I do not know (in words) how to describe this book. Perhaps on my second read-through. Definitely my favorite Didion novel.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Diane Zwang

    2.5 rounded up to 3 The author's profile page states: “Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.” Joan Didion's writing style is very different, rapid fire sentences are short and to the point. The quote from the author's page fits this book to a T. I never really connected to this story or any of the characters. It is about a dysf 2.5 rounded up to 3 The author's profile page states: “Her novels and essays explore the disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos, where the overriding theme is individual and social fragmentation. A sense of anxiety or dread permeates much of her work.” Joan Didion's writing style is very different, rapid fire sentences are short and to the point. The quote from the author's page fits this book to a T. I never really connected to this story or any of the characters. It is about a dysfunctional family and the story is about “disintegration of American morals and cultural chaos.” It also takes place during the turbulent times of the Vietnam War. Part one “After the events which occurred in the spring and summer of 1975 I thought of it differently. I thought of it as the essential mechanism for living a life in which the major cost was memory. Drop fuel. Jettison cargo. Eject crew.” Part two “You were only the voice of a generation that had taken fire on the battlefields of Vietnam and Chicago after you knew you didn't have the numbers. In addition to which. Moreover. Actually that was never your generation. Actually you were older.” I enjoyed the documentary “Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold” much more than I enjoyed this book. Her writing style, at least in this book, is not for me.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    At first I thought the authorial interruptions and cut-up narrative a distraction, but I think that their distracting nature also tells part of the story. Which seems to be about how privilege, media coverage and the public life can kill/obscure real thoughts, memories, and feelings. Highly relevant today, by the way. The book as a whole reads like a Somerset Maugham novel—The Painted Veil or The Razor’s Edge spring to mind. Less lush than those, but more real.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sierra Bartlett

    Preferred this to a Book of Common Prayer. "...and at the scene of all I had left unlearned I could summon up only fragments of poems, misremembered." Preferred this to a Book of Common Prayer. "...and at the scene of all I had left unlearned I could summon up only fragments of poems, misremembered."

  22. 5 out of 5

    Juliet

    Confusing at first but beautifully written, Didion sasses the shit out of you.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Cassie Rauch

    “fourteen pink dresses all hanging next to each other. didn’t anybody ever tell her? she didn’t look good in pink?”

  24. 5 out of 5

    Zeke Fairley

    Good book good prose good narrative good narrator...really good ending... I really liked the way the story was told...never messed me up which I feel like it could have in less practiced hand. Wooo wooo

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Didion reports this novel the way she reports cultural essays and memoirs--by reflecting on her reporting process in the text--making it something like magical realism without any magic, like the sharpest and sultriest and best version of Graham Greene's The Quiet American. Didion reports this novel the way she reports cultural essays and memoirs--by reflecting on her reporting process in the text--making it something like magical realism without any magic, like the sharpest and sultriest and best version of Graham Greene's The Quiet American.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Merricat Blackwood

    This is a strange little book. In some ways it echoes A Book of Common Prayer, in that it deals with a somewhat naive American woman and her daughter abroad in an unfriendly world, and in the style of the sentences. A stop-start pattern of accumulation and repetition prevails: “The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see. Something to behold. Something that could almost make you think you saw God, he said. He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor. Inez Victor who was born This is a strange little book. In some ways it echoes A Book of Common Prayer, in that it deals with a somewhat naive American woman and her daughter abroad in an unfriendly world, and in the style of the sentences. A stop-start pattern of accumulation and repetition prevails: “The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see. Something to behold. Something that could almost make you think you saw God, he said. He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor. Inez Victor who was born Inez Christian.” These are the first lines of the book. What kind of way to start a book is this? A cliche line of dialogue, looped around on itself a few times, and then those hiccupping sentences, dosing out information that means, at this point, nothing to the reader. I would lose faith in the author if I thought she were playing it straight, if I didn’t already know that I can trust her at least a bit. Maybe all of this is supposed to be read sort of in quotations; maybe these are the stumbling thoughts of the author struggling to begin the story. This book is a sort of autofiction; the narrator refers to herself as “Joan Didion” and describes doing things that Joan Didion, the person, actually did, such as working in the features department at Vogue. She refers to the characters as though the reader ought to already be familiar with them: “Surely you remember Inez Victor campaigning. Inez Victor smiling at a lunch counter in Manchester, New Hampshire, her fork poised over a plate of scrambled eggs and toast.” The narrator also inserts herself as an author and describes her trouble telling the story. From an early chapter: “I have no unequivocal way of beginning it [meaning the novel], although I do have certain things in mind. I have for example these lines from a poem by Wallace Stevens: ‘The palm at the end of the mind, Beyond the last thought, rises In the bronze distance, A gold-feathered bird Sings in the palm, without human meaning, Without human feeling, a foreign song.’ Consider that.” I am considering it! But I don’t know how it applies. The strangest thing here is that, although the form of the book is modernist and self-referential, the narrative could hardly be more conventional. It’s the love story of Jack Lovett, a CIA operator, and Inez Christian, the daughter of a wealthy family in Honolulu and the wife of a prominent Democratic congressman who once thought he could be president. Inez and Jack meet and have a brief affair in Honolulu when she is a teenager; they run into each other over the years after Inez is married and yearn for each other; eventually, in the midst of a family crisis, they run away together, but their time is short and Jack quickly meets a tragic death. After his death, Inez gives up her socialite status and flies to Kuala Lumpur to work at a refugee camp. It’s sentimental! I’m accustomed to experimental fiction that tells stories that don’t fit into conventional frameworks, books like The Remainder or The Passion According to G.H. I’m not used to self-referential autofiction as a vehicle for a perfectly conventional adultery plot! As with A Book of Common Prayer, many of the characters here are bitterly empty, so empty that it goes beyond an ironic view of the ruling class and into a sort of hauntedness. Here are some lines of dialogue from a scene where Inez’s relatives have gathered in the aftermath of Inez’s father fatally shooting her sister and a congressman with whom the sister was (maybe?) having an affair: “Inez. See if this doesn’t beat any martini you get in New York. I add one drop of glycerine. Old Oriental trick.” “Ruthie’s on top of that. Flowers to the undertaker. Something to the house. Deepest condolences. Tragic accident, distinguished service. Et cetera.” “Tell Jessie we’ve got a new Arabian at the ranch. Pereira blue mare, dynamite.” “If you drove around by the windward side you could see Dick’s new project. Sea Ranch? Sea Mountain? Whatever he calls it.” On top of the fact that everyone talks in the same repetitive cadence that doesn’t at all resemble human speech, who are these people? Is anyone on earth so perfectly vulgar and superficial? Inez’s father, the killer, is inscrutable. When she visits him in jail, he asks after a certain settee and describes the police officers who arrested him as “completely out of line.” Possibly the only character description of any depth comes near the end of the book, describing Inez’s daughter, Jessie: “I should tell you something about Jessie Victor that very few people understood. Harry Victor for example never understood it. Inez understood it only dimly. Here it is: Jessie never thought of herself as a problem. She never considered her use of heroin an act of rebellion, or a way of life, or even a bad habit of particular remark. Jessie Victor used heroin simply because she preferred heroin to coffee, aspirin, and cigarettes, as well as to movies, records, cosmetics, clothes, and lunch.” This same Jessie Victor decides, for reasons that seem unclear to her and everyone around her, to go to Saigon in 1975 to look for a job. She gets in without a passport, in the “confused and febrile” days around the final evacuation of American forces, but Jack Lovett with his intelligence connections manages to get her out. Jessie is the strange soul of this book; she’s as opaque and passive as anyone else in her baffling family and her baffling social context, but she seems to have human desires, at least occasionally. After all that, the most perplexing thing about this book might actually be its title. Inez, wife of a presidential candidate, daughter of a man who shot a senator, lives in the political realm, but it doesn’t seem to interest her. She shows up for the photos and that’s it. At one point, responding to a reporter, she describes the experience of living all the time in public: “You drop fuel. You jettison cargo. Eject the crew. You lose track.” Certainly the narration here mimics that losing track; Didion seems sometimes to be staging scenes from memory, having lost track of their emotional content. Jack Lovett, meanwhile, is deeply engaged in some kind of politics, a politics that revolves around making deals and trading information, certainly not a politics that cares particularly for the will of the people. His work places him in Jakarta in 1969, and this goes completely unremarked. There is a reference to some deal-cutting with “the failed third force” in Vietnam. All of this is background; at most it establishes something about Lovett’s character, his flexible sense of loyalty, his utilitarian approach toward people and information and everything but Inez. Maybe that title is the final distanced irony in this very distant, very ironic book. I would have welcomed a few more moments of earnest meaning. Do I sound like I disliked this book? I honestly didn’t. Like all of Didion’s writing, it’s terribly readable, with a compelling staccato rhythm and surprising, revealing word choices. I just couldn’t really find a way into it!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Call

    I'll have to admit I was initially put-off by Didion's narrative interjections -- it seemed kitschy at best, and for her to once again demurely mention the college textbook she was featured in for her essays seemed particularly self-aggrandizing -- but as I pushed through the novel, I came to find her impatience for traditional plot devices in what is a fundamentally boring story quite charming. This is a book that isn't really about "the story" in the conventional sense; to be quite honest, the I'll have to admit I was initially put-off by Didion's narrative interjections -- it seemed kitschy at best, and for her to once again demurely mention the college textbook she was featured in for her essays seemed particularly self-aggrandizing -- but as I pushed through the novel, I came to find her impatience for traditional plot devices in what is a fundamentally boring story quite charming. This is a book that isn't really about "the story" in the conventional sense; to be quite honest, the story is boring, but what isn't is the structure of the novel itself. Didion is subversively prodding us to challenge the linear narrative we've grown so used to. Much like we know much of the fallout of Vietnam going into the book, we also know a great deal about Inez' fate, and Didion isn't shy to remind us of this as she pipes in at different points throughout the novel. Perhaps this holds great significance as to what we already know about our own lives, but refuse to fully acquiesce to until the weight of reality all but makes it so -- we may not necessarily be linear thinkers in a two dimensional world, but it is certainly convenient to think so. Not doing so would challenge our need to form a narrative in what may well be the meaningless void of existence that we're all renting space in. It was Didion, after all, who laid the claim that "We tell stories in order to live," and that is precisely what her characters do throughout this short, but absolutely significant, book that is a must for anyone with the slightest interest in Didion or the post-war world her mind inhabits.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Patrick McCoy

    I am slowly making my way through Joan Didion's oeuvre and Democracy (1984) is easily one of her best works of fiction. I think it incorporates many of her interests and themes. For example, Inez victory is unhappily married to a politician and gets involved with a former lover, a behind-the-scenes fixer in faraway locales, Jack Lovett. She shuttles from Honolulu (Hawaii is special place for Didion), California, to distant capitals in SE Asia: Manila, Jakarta, and Kula Lumpur. The novel is set i I am slowly making my way through Joan Didion's oeuvre and Democracy (1984) is easily one of her best works of fiction. I think it incorporates many of her interests and themes. For example, Inez victory is unhappily married to a politician and gets involved with a former lover, a behind-the-scenes fixer in faraway locales, Jack Lovett. She shuttles from Honolulu (Hawaii is special place for Didion), California, to distant capitals in SE Asia: Manila, Jakarta, and Kula Lumpur. The novel is set in 1975 as America disgracefully disengages from Vietnam and the repercussion that are felt in Cambodia and throughout the world. It is a turbulent time in world history as well as Inez's personal history. The story is being told by a confidant of Inez, a certain writer named Joan Didion. Some people might find the author inserting themselves into a novel as a character as narcissistic, but I find it interesting--creating a sort of meta-narrative. Inez's children also offer a insight into the troubled would of youth culture in the mid 70s: Jessie is a recovering heroin addict who seems adrift in the world and her son Aldali is idealistic and somewhat unfocused in his attempts to be political, but inherits his unconventionally from his politician father. This was a compelling and somewhat fractured chronicle of a the private life of a public person with complicated relationships with her family and the world in general.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Hank Stuever

    After feeling disappointed by "Run River" and "A Book of Common Prayer," and having worked my way through all her other books that existed at that point, I took it slow with "Democracy." (It was her journalism I wanted more of, circa 1991, which was coming at a slow but somewhat steady clip in pieces she wrote for The New York Review of Books and, less occasionally, the Robert Gottlieb-era New Yorker. I began to realize that I was running out of new Didion stuff to discover.) Anyhow, "Democracy." After feeling disappointed by "Run River" and "A Book of Common Prayer," and having worked my way through all her other books that existed at that point, I took it slow with "Democracy." (It was her journalism I wanted more of, circa 1991, which was coming at a slow but somewhat steady clip in pieces she wrote for The New York Review of Books and, less occasionally, the Robert Gottlieb-era New Yorker. I began to realize that I was running out of new Didion stuff to discover.) Anyhow, "Democracy." This one has more resonance for me -- in terms of era and setting and theme -- than the Central American political backdrop of "A Book of Common Prayer." Though both novels have that same vibe, where personal narratives become part of a larger tapestry of contemporary history and conspiracy. Style is still the real show here. You can just luxuriate in the spare sentences and strange structure. Anyone wanting a traditional novel or any sort of plot-related thrill is going to be flummoxed and disappointed. Which I suppose is a real question for the group: At what point is a novelist obligated to deliver something we can all recognize as a novel? Could anyone but Joan Didion turn in a manuscript like this and be well on her way to publication?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nicola

    This was a pleasant surprise, I went into it not expecting very much and found myself hooked by the very first words. The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see. Something to behold. Something that could almost make you think you saw God, he said. He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor. Joan Didion uses her short sentences rather like short machine gun bursts, and it works well. It gives a sense of intimacy and longing, which echoes throughout the rest of the book even This was a pleasant surprise, I went into it not expecting very much and found myself hooked by the very first words. The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see. Something to behold. Something that could almost make you think you saw God, he said. He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor. Joan Didion uses her short sentences rather like short machine gun bursts, and it works well. It gives a sense of intimacy and longing, which echoes throughout the rest of the book even if Joan is writing the part you are currently reading in a more conventional format. For the rest, the book doesn't exactly move at a breakneck pace, even though a lot of happening in the world; this is set around the events of 1975 when the States had to pull out of Vietnam. I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd had even the slightest background knowledge of this part of history but I am profoundly ignorant. If I ever re-read this I'll make sure to do a bit of prep work in this area first.

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