cover image The Uptown Local: Joy, Death, and Joan Didion: A Memoir

The Uptown Local: Joy, Death, and Joan Didion: A Memoir

Cory Leadbeater. Ecco, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-337157-6

Leadbeater debuts with a stirring account of his time working for Joan Didion (1934–2021) in the final years of her life. While growing up in New Jersey, Leadbeater endured horrific physical and psychological abuse from his father. To cope, he threw himself into reading and writing, and eventually gained admission to Columbia University’s English program in 2012. The next year, Leadbeater accepted a position assisting a well-known but unnamed writer who needed help with “all kinds of things.” The employer, it turned out, was Didion. The two bonded, and Leadbeater, who had been commuting to classes from New Jersey, eventually moved in with Didion in Manhattan. With her help, he endured his father’s arrest for fraud, the death of a friend, and persistent thoughts of suicide. Quotidian tasks like ordering tissues bumped against casually glamorous endeavors, including dinners at Didion’s apartment with “Oscar winners, California governors, and Supreme Court justices.” Despite considering the period “in some ways a ludicrous fantasy,” Leadbeater credits Didion with advising him to “catalogue all the aspects of myself that seemed to operate without harmony or precision... because accurate accounting mattered more than neat narrative.” This gloriously written recollection does right by Didion’s advice. Agent: Sarah Bowlin, Aevitas Creative Management.