Joan Didion

This week's review dives into the unique and enduring writing style of Joan Didion

Joan Didion: Substance and Style

Vandenberg, Kathleen M. SUNY Press, 2021
184p bibl index, 9781438481395 $95.00, 9781438481388 $20.95

Joan Didion: Substance and Style book cover

In her introduction to this volume Vandenberg (rhetoric, Boston Univ.) notes that Didion’s biographical details have “likely commanded as much attention as her prose, if not more.” Earlier critical works offer themes and chronologies of her life, but Didion is a “writer with enormous reserve.” In this book Vandenberg examines Didion’s nonfiction prose of the past four decades through the lens of rhetoric, dissecting its power and charm. Whether looking at aging, delving into grief, or inspiring other women journalists and writers, Didion is a model and iconic essayist. Vandenberg shows the reader the ways in which Didion elegantly lifts the curtain on popular culture and political events while keenly aware of “the control that sentences exert over content” (p. 5). With her hallmark repetition, placement of commas, vivid metaphors, cadence, and parenthetical asides directed at the reader, she maintains precise control of form. Vanderberg offers a unique examination of how Didion’s later nonfiction and essays are constructed. She offers close readings of Salvador (1983), “New York: Sentimental Journeys” (The New York Review, January, 1991), Political Fictions (2001), The Year of Magical Thinking (2005), and Blue Night (2011), providing an engaging look at how Didion’s recent work mirrors an urbane style yet continues familiar patterns in her writing.

Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; professionals; general readers.
E. L. Bagley, Agnes Scott College
Subject: Humanities – Language & Literature – English & American
Choice Issue: Jan 2022

Enjoy this week’s review? Check out more reviews of related titles: