Joan Didion has been consecrated in her own lifetime. In the five decades since “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” her work, particularly her nonfiction, has been widely celebrated. In 2013, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Humanities Medal. She was the subject, in 2017, of a Netflix documentary, “The Center Will Not Hold.” “South and West,” published the same year, showed that even her notes would sell. This April, the Library of America will release the second volume of its definitive edition of her work. What has fixed her in the collective imagination?
Partly the chilled prose — ahead of its time, anticipating both the personal essay boom and the numbed affect that would become typical of Generation X. But also her extraordinary insight. Nathaniel Rich, prefacing “South and West,” wrote that she “saw her era more clearly than anyone else, which is another way of saying that she was able to see the future.” In his introduction to “Let Me Tell You What I Mean,” her slim new volume, Hilton Als suggests that it’s Didion’s “feeling for the uncanny” that distinguishes her contribution to American nonfiction.
For the review in full, visit The Washington Post.