Didion's later style—which is something like Henry James trying to report on the Holocaust—is problematic, though. Think of writers of similar political outrage: Gore Vidal, whose cynicism about power is equal to Didion's but who is saved by his humor and, face it, his aristocratic epicureanism, manages to suggest cheerful health and power in his work. Christopher Hitchens takes on issues just as dire as Didion's with a fecund British wit that doesn't diminish the energy of his leftist commitments. But Didion is almost humorless, not to mention joyless, and she doesn't like to get her hands dirty. The admirably tight ironies that hold her sinuous sentences together make their points, but they also seem to confess, finally, to her sense of impotence. It's a final irony that the more leftist Didion gets, the more the ideal of democracy means to her, the less she's actually speaking to the people. PoliticalFictions is a powerful book, but it's more for the salons than the streets.
Political Fictions by Joan Didion; Knopf, 2001. Hardcover, 338 pages, $25.