Sunday, January 24, 2016
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Glimpses of California in the Sixties
In this collection of magazine essays, Joan Didion turns her cool gaze on some California phenomena: a young Joan Baez, hippies in Haight Ashbury, a fishy San Bernardino murder and her childhood memories of the "original” California. Even though Joan Didion is a native, there’s something a little condescending here, a bit East Coasty – oh those nutty West Coasters, with their pomposity about silly things. There’s a Jeremiah flavor going on as well, poetic, completely authoritative, and warning of imminent disaster.
Joan Didion must be one of America’s finest prose stylists. She also seems like a true conservative, preferring John Wayne to LSD taking toddlers. In the essay, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” she has no sympathy for the earnest hippies, in fact, oozes disapproval. Near the end, the perceptions felt repetitive. After the passage of time, the celebrity pieces, the Joan Baez and John Wayne stuff are essentially slight. But she certainly knows how to dramatically end a scene.