In 2006, Joan Didion – an American writer and journalist born in Sacramento, in 1934, who died on December 23, 2021 in New York – said that her ideal of writing style was “economy, clarity, simplicity.” It was cheap, it was clear, but what it did was far from simple. Unless it is considered easy to write an exceptional number of perfect sentences at the beginning of perfect chronicles (“We tell stories to ourselves in order to live”, The white album 1968-1978; “It is difficult to see the beginning of things and not so easy to see the endings. For example, now I remember, with a clarity that makes the nerves in my neck shrink, of when New York began for me, but I cannot precisely discern when it ended ”, Goodbye to all that, 1967).
Unless it is considered easy to describe in a few lines the undeniable and annoying romanticism that ran through it, as it did in John Wayne: Love Song (1965), recalling that Wayne tells a girl in one of his films that he will build a house for her on the bend of the river where the poplars grow: “The truth is that growing up I did not become the kind of woman that He stars in a Western movie, and although the men I have met have had many virtues and have taken me to live in many places, they have never been John Wayne, and they have never taken me to that bend in the river where the poplars grow either. . But in the depths of my heart, where artificial rain falls eternally, that is still the phrase I want to hear ”.
He lived for a time in New York, where he had his first journalistic job at the magazine Vogue, and then returned to California, a region that was both exhilarating and hateful to him, and which he portrayed in exceptional chronicles that can be read in Those who dream the American dream (Mondadori, 2012). She had elegance and refinement, a remarkable beauty that she carried with self-awareness and lack of apprehension, she was devilishly snobbish, but also rude, strong, wild, owner of a sharp prose, a perfidious look and an ambitious instinct that allowed her to transform into the only woman who, For a long time, he reigned in the group of men that made up the New American Journalism group, people like Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson or Gay Talese.
He wrote novels, screenplays, and some of America’s most notable non-fiction works, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968); The white album (1979); Salvador (1983); of which The year of magical thinking (2005) is the best known and one of the magnificent pieces of what is known as “mourning literature”, a genre that delves into sad memories to make, of what was a nightmare, literature. Few authors do so with the astringency of Didion, who handles the loads of emotional nitroglycerin with courage and narrative cunning. Without kitsch or complacency, the book tells of the dark time that followed the death of her husband, the fabulous writer John Gregory Dunne, which occurred on December 30, 2003 at the exact moment when the two, who had been together for decades and boasted if they could finish each other’s sentences and vice versa, they were getting ready to eat after having visited their daughter, Quintana, who was in a coma in a hospital.
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That set of misfortunes – dead husband, daughter in a coma – not only did not annihilate Didion, but a few months later, on October 4, 2004, he sat down to write this book, which begins with a paragraph that is already a classic, another demonstration of that supernatural ability he had to achieve lean phrases that struck like a jet of fire: “Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner, and the life you know is over. The theme of self-pity ”. What in another would have been a cheap aphorism, in her was a chemical blast. Much of his work is available in Spanish – Random House Literature published in 2021 What I mean, which brings together 10 unpublished articles in our language — thanks to the editor Claudio López Lamadrid, who published it in that house. Died on January 11, 2019, López Lamadrid often quoted this phrase from Didion: “Writing is a complicated undertaking, which requires the editor not only to maintain a faith that the writer only shares intermittently, but also to like him the writer, something that is not easy. Writers are rarely nice people. They do not contribute anything to the party, they leave the fun on the typewriter ”. Which is where it should be and where, with sarcasm, intelligence and charming disdain, this girl from California put it.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.