“In New Orleans in June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death but death by decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever of unknown etiology.” (p. 5) Deb will have to weigh in on the accuracy of the first line of Joan Didion’s first fragment, “South.” South and West are pieces Didion started but never finished. “South” is based on a road trip Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne took in June 1970. As with much of Didion’s work, you get a lot about her as well as whatever topic she’s writing about.
“As it happens I was taught to cook by someone from Louisiana, where an avid preoccupation with recipes and food among men was not unfamiliar to me. We lived together for some years, and I think we must fully under each other when once I tried to kill him with a kitchen knife.” (p. 8) Didion and her husband meander across the South aimlessly, making observations as they travel around. Didion interviews a white owner of a Black music radio station. “South” is 107 pages of this 126 page book.
That means that “West” is about 10 pages long. Didion told Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone that she wanted to cover the Patter Hearst trial in 1976. But once Didion got to San Francisco, a number of memories got triggered. Didion recalls her first airplane flight from New York City to San Francisco. She remembers the first time she walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. And…then the book ends. As much as I admire Joan Didion’s work, I found this book of fragments unsatisfying. If you want to read the Good Stuff Joan Didion has written, I highly recommend We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. You can safely skip South and West. GRADE: C