cover image The World According to Joan Didion

The World According to Joan Didion

Evelyn McDonnell. HarperOne, $26.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-328907-9

Loyola Marymount University journalism professor McDonnell (Queens of Noise) delivers a disappointing ode to Joan Didion, recreating the author’s life by meditating on “object[s] that figured large in Didion’s imaginary,” including gold, snakes, hotels, and orchids. McDonnell begins with gold, discussing how Didion’s teenage fascination with her ’49er ancestors eventually transformed into a skepticism of the American imperial project they had participated in. The chapter on “man” delves into Didion’s marriage to writer John Gregory Dunne, noting that he had a fierce temper and they fought often before reconciling during a stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in the late 1960s. Unfortunately, McDonnell often focuses on the superficial aspects of Didion’s life, dwelling on her fear of snakes, love of “fast cars as well as beautiful homes” (she drove a “yellow Corvette Stingray and lived in a Hollywood mansion”), and penchant for fine dining (she and Dunne “loved to eat out and had expensive tastes”). McDonnell praises her subject’s prose—often to the point of hagiography—but the overall impression given of Didion is that she was more of a celebrity than a serious writer. Diverting and insubstantial, this only scratches the surface of Didion’s enduring appeal. (Sept.)