cover image The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion

The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion

Tracy Daugherty. St. Martin’s, $35 (672p) ISBN 978-1-250-01002-5

Daugherty, author of the Donald Barthelme biography Hiding Man, offers a monumental, novelistic examination of Joan Didion’s life and career. The book’s impressively detailed attention to place, beginning with Didion’s California origins, grounds Didion’s development as both a fiction writer and a journalist who served as “our keenest observer of the chaos” of the 1960s and beyond. At times, Daugherty tries too hard to mimic Didion’s own famously cool and elliptical style, as in the passages about her time in Hollywood, but he settles into confident, engrossing prose when focusing on Didion’s literary achievements, from the prematurely world-weary early novels and the groundbreaking essays that cemented her fame to the “extremely political, icily angry” mature works and the heartbreaking late memoirs The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. Taking a loyal, often protective tone toward his (physically) “famously frail” subject, Daugherty crafts a complex, intricately shaded portrait of a woman also known for her inner toughness and intellectual rigor. This landmark work renders a nuanced analysis of a literary life, lauds Didion’s indelible contributions to American literature and journalism (especially New Journalism), and documents a “style [that] has become the music of our time.” 8-page b&w photo insert. (Aug.)