A Book of Common Prayer

3.6
Writing with the telegraphic swiftness and microscopic sensitivity that have made her one of our most distinguished journalists, Joan Didion creates a shimmering novel of innocence and evil. A Novel of Common Prayer is the tory of two American women in the derelict Central American nation of Boca Grande. Grace Strasser-Mendana controls much of the country 's wealth and knows virtually all of its secrets; Charlotte Douglas knows far too little. " Immaculate of history, innocent of politics, " she has come to Boca Grande vaguely and vainly hoping to be reunited with her fugitive daughter. As imagined by Didion, her destin is at once utterly particular and fearfully emblematic of an age of conscienceless authority and unfathomable violence.
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Year of the Publication
Publication Date
Published April 11th 1995 by Vintage International (first published 1977
Original Title of the Book
A Book of Common Prayer
Number of Pages
272

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gave it

Didion is one of those rare writer that pens hypnotic sentences that weave into paragraphs that make you struggle to recall where you are and why there 's drool on your chin.

gave it

Neither is a real, named place ( although Bel Canto seems to be based on everythin that happened in a outh American country sometime during the 1990s, IIRC), but there 's an evocation, especially in this autobiography, of an equatorial country and its heat and poverty and corruption that makes me feel like I 've been there, even though I 'm as removed geographically from anyplace like that as I am from that er of time.Anyway, glad I finally got to read it.

gave it

These two books you know, [ i ] The Year of Magical Thinking [ /i ] and [ i ] Blue Nights [ /i ] respectively, and they ’ re fine books, certainly quite honest, but I pick up on the whiff of sexism here; the female writer comments on national and world events and Martin Amis bashes her for “ not being a ba mother ” or whatever silly thing he said in his review of [ i ] the White Album [ /i ], but when she mourns her husband and aughter, wellllll we can define her as wife and mother now so we ’ re okay with Joan Didion.

Needless to say, I am not having this shit, and I encourage anyone who ’ s read the two later memoirs and nothing else to get up on their early Didion.But it ’ s the third and second periods I want to focus on here, since [ i ] A Book of Common Prayer [ /i ] strikes me as a ort of transition between them, and like many “ transitional ” works of art, it ’ s compelling but not always smooth.

And yes, I ’ ll freely admit her work doesn ’ t always fit into this model as well as I ’ m proposing, since usually our models are only guidelines anyway ( I ’ d be the second to admit 2001 ’ s [ i ] Political Fictions [ /i ], as well as parts of [ i ] After Henry [ /i ], kind of scuttle my theory), but it ’ s a good way into my review so I ’ m sticking to the model, just so long as you understand that I ’ m not whole worlds of attached to it or nything.

You can probably tell I ’ m still hedging about whether arranging a writer ’ s career into an arc is reductive, yet I see some of the issues of both [ i ] Play It As It Lays [ /i ] and [ i ] Democracy [ /i ] ( her strongest novel out of the three I ’ ve read) here.

So far, it might seem like the ideal setting for this ook is the vision of either Los Angeles or New York City she articulates so well in her early works, but she didn ’ t set it in Los Angeles or New York ity, she set it in the fictional Central American republic of Boca Grande, and these rich people ’ s lives are invaded not by addiction or surprise pregnancies but the political tumult and shadowy CIA operations I mentioned above.

gave it

Charlotte is hanging around Boca Grande, a fake maybe-El Salvador where she has fled to escape her Joan Didion novel of a past and to submit the enigma of her existence to the former-anthropologist-cum-hobby-scientist-and-ruling-elite narrator 's gaze.I personally feel sentimental about the Bay Area in the 1970s, as it 's the ground out of which I was grown, and this book fed my hunger for a glimpse of that time.

This is actually just the second Didion novel I 've read, but she has such a distinctive style that I keep wanting to make broad pronouncements about her novella.

gave it

Many times during Joan Didion 's Book of Common Prayer, one character will tell another that they " were wrong. " In what almost seems irrelevant.

Charlotte is both fleeing herself and searching for her Weatherman-like daughter.

For a slim book, Didion packs a lot of tory, perhaps too much, as she spends, arguably, too much time on Charlotte 's first daughte, Warren Bogart, an epic, poetry quoting asshole.

Well, in a way ( daughters gone bad) it does, but for my money, Didion is much closer to the ground in capturing what the 70s were like.

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