Democracy

ISBN: 0679754857
ISBN 13: 9780679754855
By: Joan Didion

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Reader's Thoughts

Hank Stuever

After feeling disappointed by "Run River" and "A Book of Common Prayer," and having worked my way through all her other books that existed at that point, I took it slow with "Democracy." (It was her journalism I wanted more of, circa 1991, which was coming at a slow but somewhat steady clip in pieces she wrote for The New York Review of Books and, less occasionally, the Robert Gottlieb-era New Yorker. I began to realize that I was running out of new Didion stuff to discover.)Anyhow, "Democracy." This one has more resonance for me -- in terms of era and setting and theme -- than the Central American political backdrop of "A Book of Common Prayer." Though both novels have that same vibe, where personal narratives become part of a larger tapestry of contemporary history and conspiracy. Style is still the real show here. You can just luxuriate in the spare sentences and strange structure. Anyone wanting a traditional novel or any sort of plot-related thrill is going to be flummoxed and disappointed. Which I suppose is a real question for the group: At what point is a novelist obligated to deliver something we can all recognize as a novel? Could anyone but Joan Didion turn in a manuscript like this and be well on her way to publication?

Christina

This was a strange yet decent read. It took a bit to pick up on the author's writing style. Very developed characters but the plot was dry - when I finished the book I was indifferent, not moved. The story revolved around a campaigner's wife, Inez Victor. She is from Hawaii, but manages to get wrapped up in politics with meeting and marrying her husband (out of wedlock). Throughout the story, which jumps back and forth in time within a period of 20 years, she is having a secret affair with CIA agent Jack Lovett. Basically the story follows her life in this. One of the major themes is "memory" and "forgetting", how politics works best on empty minds. The story was rather weird. Good read though in general.

Michael Wampler

This is my favorite book of all time, easily the best thing I have ever read. I re-read it regularly, and every time I am newly captivated by the vivid, haunting portrait of Inez Victor that Joan Didion paints. Didion is perhaps better known for her non-fiction than her fiction, but this book cannot receive enough attention as far as I'm concerned. It's at once over in an instant and feels like it lasts a lifetime, and though it chronicles a most unusual family and their extraordinary circumstances, it is even still all too easy for any reader to empathize with Inez, and ultimately become caught up in her journey.

Nikki

I adored this book for far too many reasons to list. Pretty much everyone else I know hates it and hates all that Didion writes. For whatever reason I am very much drawn to her writing style despite her obvious shortcomings

Brian

I love Joan Didion's style. I haven't read much by her and look to remedy that.1. The way Democracy is narrated, with Joan Didion, author, being a person the characters interact with, makes the story feel like non-fiction. Very cool.2. There is a fixation on certain details that feels realistic. Who ended up with Leilani Thayer's koa settee? (While reading this, I learned that my maternal grandmother's mahogany bedroom set is the bedroom set that my paternal grandparents had when they were first married. This movement of furniture seems important, and I like to know I'm not the only one who thinks so.) Other details fall away. The major cost of public life is memory, says Inez.3. "'Anyway we were together,'she said. 'We were together all our lives. If you count thinking about it.'" Killed me.

Patrick McCoy

I am slowly making my way through Joan Didion's oeuvre and Democracy (1984) is easily one of her best works of fiction. I think it incorporates many of her interests and themes. For example, Inez victory is unhappily married to a politician and gets involved with a former lover, a behind-the-scenes fixer in faraway locales, Jack Lovett. She shuttles from Honolulu (Hawaii is special place for Didion), California, to distant capitals in SE Asia: Manila, Jakarta, and Kula Lumpur. The novel is set in 1975 as America disgracefully disengages from Vietnam and the repercussion that are felt in Cambodia and throughout the world. It is a turbulent time in world history as well as Inez's personal history. The story is being told by a confidant of Inez, a certain writer named Joan Didion. Some people might find the author inserting themselves into a novel as a character as narcissistic, but I find it interesting--creating a sort of meta-narrative. Inez's children also offer a insight into the troubled would of youth culture in the mid 70s: Jessie is a recovering heroin addict who seems adrift in the world and her soon Aldali is idealistic and somewhat unfocused in his attempts to be political, but unconventionally form his politician father. This was a compelling and somewhat fractured chronicle of a the private life of a public person with complicated relationships with her family and the world in general.

Elaine

This was an odd book. It was a meta-fiction, fake memoir/biography, mystery with little substance behind it. There were a lot of characters and I found it difficult to keep them all straight, especially when there wasn't much interaction between them. The characters were extremely well developed, but the plot was not at all, and I didn't see the point of the author's inserting herself into the story. I didn't really see the point of the novel, actually. However, let it be known that I pretty much despise post-modernism. So obviously my review is extremely biased.

Kerry

Almost a roman a clef with Kennedy-esque characters. Didion's prose, the laconic dialogue, the detached, knowing narrator, the interviews with the characters, the wait and see lovers - I can't express how effectively Didion evokes the surrealism of Vietnam for "non-actors" At one point the narrator describes the implosion of time as the USA pulls out of Vietnam, that is timeless. I've been trying to write a screen play of this for 10 years

Matthew

Joan Didion is unusual to read in reverse order. I read the Year of Magical Thinking just prior to Democracy. In the middle of Democracy, the main character of the novel loses a younger sister in a strange sequence of events and is left at a hospital arguing with the hospital resident about when life support will be removed. Didion suffers oddly similar circumstances personally in Magical Thinking. Back to Democracy, the military and political collapse in vietnam serves as mirrored backdrop to the family's own.

Ronald Wise

Though much the same style as in her novel A Book of Common Prayer, this story takes place in the time of, and in locations most affected by the American withdrawal from Vietnam. Didion actually introduces herself by name as the narrator, further blurring the distinction between fiction and reality. As in her other book, a couple of women seem to be the only reality-based characters among scheming and/or heartless men and their female accomplices. The only male character who seems to have any integrity is, eventually, the one who's integrity is officially challenged. I added this novel to my list after reading the author's memoir The Year of Magical Thinking in June 2006.

Nicole Cheslock

"The Year of Magical Thinking" is the first Joan Didion book I read. I picked it up a couple weeks ago and was hooked. Looked forward to delving into more of her work - both nonfiction and fiction. Next up - "Where I was from". I struggled through the first dozens of pages, maybe because I'm not a natural history buff, didn't instantly connect with the names, the content. Pushed it to the other side of the nightstand. Then I picked up "Democracy." It's the only book I've ever immediately turned back to the first page after reading through the first time. I found it that interesting and intriguing. I loved...hearing directly from Didion, falling for the characters - the allure of Lovett, the romance between Jack and Inez, the relationships, the dialogue, the fast moving pace of the writing and narrative. See what you think![I don't like using a period inside quotations marks when marks are used for anything other than a person's quote so I tap English standards ...http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/gramma...]

Alec Scott

The cool of this book and it's Jackie O. heroine. We see the veneer of a woman who weathers a presidential campaign by her Berkeley-progressive (and deeply phony) husband's side -- as well as her husband's adoring policy wonk mistress/PA. She has an affair of her own -- the chemistry of this passionate, whole-life affair -- it smolders from the page. We see the awful narrowness of the top family compacts that run Hawaii at the mid-century. Didion takes us inside the corridors of power, shows us the underside of the glamourous life. There is a murder at the centre of this. The American presence in Vietnam is glossed over, from a high-end point of view, not from down in the muck. Imperial America is the subject -- the title seems a misnomer, since we see very little of, think very little about democracy as a result of the reading. This is about charisma and power (two of the main ingredients of democracy, of course), but somehow it's not about how they play out democratically, but just about them per se. Such strong writing, sentence by sentence (as they say in workshops); such chutzpah, such confidence she has.

Daniel

This book really surprised me. In a slim novel, Didion meditates on American politics and media in the 1970s and shares her insights without rush or contrivance. Her approach to the story is unique and well structured, and her prose is clean and nearly transparent. I was reminded of Graham Greene's "The Quiet American," both because of their shared interest in Vietnam and of each writer's ability to balance big happenings with small, yet no less profound, human dramas. I look forward to reading this again.

Sean

Well that didn't work at all. A kind of novel as news reportage. Sort of. With Didion adding herself as a character, someone who knows the main character, Inez, and is reporting what she said about some things that happened. Which things amount to one thing, which is that Inez had a long-standing affair with some old guy. It's sort of political, this book, in that the main characters are involved in politics. Most of the characters are referred to by first and last names all the time, which is both stylistic and helps you differentiate them, because all the characters are exactly the same. And I still couldn't remember who they were. It's a brief, sketchy book, with no one to care about, and nothing happening. It's like artfully rendered gossip. Maybe Didion's essays are the way to go...

Carolyn

War, post-colonialism, presidential politics, murder, international intrigue, sibling rivalry, betrayal, parental failure, enduring love--all of this in just over 200 pages of Joan Didion's inimitable prose.

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