At thirty three or four, Didion of Slouching Towards Bethlehem
is still a girl. I recognize the signs. (Some people capable of voicing their thoughts on subjects such as "Self-Respect" and "Morality" are born middle-aged; others, possibly due to their specific upbringing, remain questioning, uncertain, young.)
Her parents relocated multiple times during her childhood (her father was in the military), which left her feeling a perpetual outsider.
Her voice is that of a well-mannered young woman, quiet and perceptive, living next to other people, but never being of them. Even when - I guess - she might be feeling some distaste - be it for the murderers, child abusers, or the very rich and divorced from 'real life', it is subdued, neutral, to be inferred, shown-not-told:
one of [Greek shipping heiresses] taught me a significant lesson (a lesson I could have learned from F. Scott Fitzgerald, but perhaps we all must meet the very rich for ourselves) by asking, when I arrived to interview her in her orchid-filled sitting room on the second day of a paralyzing New York blizzard, whether it was snowing outside. (On Keeping a Notebook)
She is sensitive and perceptive in a way which makes me want to buy her a drink:
Barbara is on what is called the woman's trip to the exclusion of almost everything else. When she and Tom and Max and Sharon need money, Barbara will take a part-time job, modeling or teaching kindergarten, but she dislikes earning more than ten or twenty dollars a week. Most of the time she keeps house and bakes. "Doing something that shows your love that way," she says, "is just about the most beautiful thing I know." Whenever I hear about the woman's trip, which is often, I think a lot about nothin'-says-lovin'-like-something-from-the-oven and the Feminine Mystique and how it is possible for people to be the unconscious instruments of values they would strenuously reject on a conscious level, but I do not mention this to Barbara. (Slouching Towards Bethlehem)
She is a neurotic; she weeps in Chinese laundries and wakes at night; she escapes to Hawaii; she is [a:Elizabeth Wurtzel|4370|Elizabeth Wurtzel|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1209360163p2/4370.jpg]'s patron saint and older sister - but she is old enough to be self-aware:
It was once suggested to me that, as an antidote to crying, I put my head in a paper bag. As it happens, there is a sound physiological reason, something to do with oxygen, for doing exactly that, but the psychological effect alone is incalculable: it is difficult in the extreme to continue fancying oneself Cathy in "Wuthering Heights" with one's head in a Food Fair bag.
Didion's understanding of situations and people is an instrument of unusually wide range; she understands the big picture (I read her description of post-war Hawaii - "Letter from Paradise" - with bated breath), but she can also convey her perceptions of individuals in amusing, nearly picture-book-like neat phrases, which one may confuse for innocence:
Mr. Scott says that he will be glad to get Alcatraz off his hands, but the charge of a fortress island could not be something a man gives up without ambivalent thoughts. (Rock of Ages)
On the whole, I wanted to give the book four stars, but then it ended with a sublime (and girly, and whiney) "Goodbye to All That" - so underhanded! So manipulative! Such writing! - and decided to give it 4.5.