Democracy

ISBN: 0679754857
ISBN 13: 9780679754855
By: Joan Didion

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Reader's Thoughts

Lisa

Maybe I'm biased (ha), but this is just to freaking post-modern for me. Fractured & splintered I can handle. Boring I cannot. This one just didn't interest me, though, like DeLillo's Mao II, it raises some fine points about the media's function in our contemporary world.

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.

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.

JT

I didn't know what to make of this novel at first, but after getting into it more, I got used to Didion's writing style. It was a very quick read that flowed smoothly as the book went on. An interesting choice for my American Lit class. At first, I did not like this novel, but as I read it, I became more engrossed in the character's lives. The characters that most intrigued me were Billy Dillon, Jack Lovett, and Inez. After finishing this book, I was satisfied. Pretty decent if you are looking for a quick read about a dysfunctional government family.

Ira

Joan Didion has to be one of the top 10 best living writers of a. fiction and b. non-fiction. Seriously, she is downright amazing. Democracy is filled with lines that are so f***ing good, it's nuts that one person thought of all of them. In my eyes this book is worth the ink used so we could read it because you know as it's going down that you want it to end just so you can wait a few months/years to enjoy it all over again. I wish Didion had a time machine that she could go back into and write some more books.

Kevin

I enjoyed this book so much that while in a used book shop recently, I almost purchased a second copy of it. Didion introduces the reader to facets of the tumultuous decades of the 60s and 70s in America that I for one did not know or understand. At the same time, as she follows characters through their interactions with each other, she writers herself brialliantly into the story as well. Just as we ourselves find suddenly the sand of Pacific islands and enormous blossoms of East Asia, she too finds herself amid the minds and desires of her characters.

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.

Ron Mckinney

On DEMOCRACY, A NOVEL BY JOAN DIDIONThe other day I was asked: “What are you currently reading?” I happened to have “Democracy” close to my elbow at that moment. So that was my answer, but it wasn’t true, because I was actually reading some drivel about Aldus Huxley on the monitor and wishing I hadn’t fired up the computer.I’ve actually read Democracy four times, maybe five, and enjoy it more with each reading. Why? Because Joan Didion is not only a damn fine story teller, but she narrates the story, whether fiction or fact. She’s told us where she is from, where she’s been and has given us more personal information than we’d ever get from a “friend.” So it’s easy to sympathize with her characters while watching, as it were, Joan struggle to find the story buried within her notes, and then marveling at her knack for walking that tightrope high above the crowd without a safety net. Democracy is a love story. I must add that it is an historical romance comprised of scenes spanning the middle of the Twentieth Century up to the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Didion’s clock starts ticking as she reminisces about her visits to the Hawaiian Islands, her interest in geology and the rise and fall of islands, which are mirrored in the rise and fall of her main characters in business, politics, and romance. Democracy is a quick read, a thin book, and is an appetizer for Joan Didion’s other fiction and non-fiction works. It was my first taste and since then I’ve collected her body of work. My favorite Didion novels are Democracy, Play it as it Lays, and The Last Thing He Wanted.

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

Christopher

Didion is a favorite author of mine. This is her first work of fiction I have read, and I found it very enjoyable. The book was published in 1984, when post-modern techniques would have been much more in vogue, and while I will spare you my thoughts on post-modernism in today's culture, I think that aspects of this book that would have been acceptable and insightful and maybe even avant-garde in 1984 detract from its potential now (like introducing herself as a character, making it seem at times like a non-fiction work). So I had to read it with that in mind. Putting the context of the period in which she wrote aside, the book would be close to a five star one for me because of how Didion uses the English language with aplomb, crafting complex yet graceful sentences. The main character here so well drawn, tragic and brusque yet compassionate. And Didion's grasp of the way the world works is always relevant both in her time and in ours. The geo-political events in this book are similar to the Iraq quagmire we have today, and Didion might as well have been writing now.

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?

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.

Juanita Rice

My first experience of Didion! And I'm enthralled. Above all, I am relieved to finally find a book I unequivocally enjoyed. The last three or four books I've read have all been disappointing and I was beginning to feel like the Grinch, assailing a happy world I didn't like. All these well-liked books, and I was not amused or pleased: Austerlitz, White Noise, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and Broken for You: worse and worse. I was beginning to suspect myself of being an arrogant crank, reading books in order to sniff in superior disdain in the very attitude I deplored in Hedgehog.What a delightful discovery. Joan Didion: lean, mean, keen. A quieter John LeCarre, a sketch or watercolor where LeCarre writes in full-color cinematography. Democracy, for instance, could be made into a movie but it depends, as a book, much less on its plot than most cinema. The plot is like a skeleton in Democracy; its frame supports the book, but the book is a slow fleshing-out, a study of parts being revealed. Or an unearthing of the story: one corner is revealed, pondered, put aside. Another piece of the puzzle emerges slowly, with much discussion of the methods of excavation that are tried and then abandoned. What emerges is a shimmering reflection of Inez Victor's experience of a historical moment. And much of it has to be reconstructed because as Inez says in an interview, the main cost of living a public life married to an ambitious politician is memory. Memory is contaminated with the public versions of her story until the pressure builds up to the point at which-- "You drop fuel. You jettison cargo. Eject the crew. You lose track."Didion diffuses and disperses reader focus away from plot, away from suspense or final outcome. She speaks about how she wrote this story and not other possible stories, how she found out certain facts and certain multiple versions of events. She reflects on the challenges and the tenuous moments of writing. She narrates the book but as if she were a real participating reporter or biographer. She starts the book with a record of an audio track that takes place in the final year of the story: 1975. Chapter One, part 1, consists of three pages of what was said, like a transcription except for occasional lines like these: He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor. Inez Victor who was born Inez Christian.Two pages later there is another short insertion in the long monolog of Jack Lovett. He said to her. Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor (who was born Inez Christian) in the spring of 1975.Finally, a full paragraph reels out the context: " 'Oh, shit, Inez,' he says one night in the spring of 1975, one night outside Honolulu," a night when planes are shuttling between Honolulu and Anderson and Clark and Saigon all night long. The spring of 1975. The liberation of Saigon. The chapter concludes: "This is a hard story to tell." And Part 2 begins with the line, "Call me the author," followed by a reference to Trollope, lines from a Wallace Stevens poem, Inez Victor's explanation of why she stayed on in Kuala Lumpur: "Colors, moisture, heat, enough blue in the sky." The narrator dreams of green, dense, moist tropical vegetation, maybe banana, but there are no bananas so "symbolists can relax." All this slows the reader, it condenses, delights and deflects. It introduces exposition in curious ways, like the description of the novel that didn't get written. It paints an atmosphere of the wealthy and the forthright, the tropics, politicians, and the Vietnam war. It blurs the line between fictional narrator and actual novelist. A preamble, a hesitation, a false intimacy with the story teller. A set-up. Beating around the bush. And the story does not fly out, startled at last from its reticence. All this in nine pages.By this point, I was absolutely mesmerized. I devoured the book between three and seven p.m., and immediately turned back to savor the palette, the touch, the soft wash of the background and the keen ink-strokes of characterization. Inez Christian, a wealthy white Hawaiian, marries Harry Victor who is a serious politician with aspirations to become a liberal U.S. President. In 1972 his campaign is defeated, and in 1975 disasters strike his in-laws, Inez's family. One of the most compelling characters is Harry's spin-doctor, campaign manager, and general political factotum, Billy Dillon. I wish I could cite a particularly revealing of his cheerful schmoozing of facts. Instead, I'll end with one of the little nuggets tucked throughout this novel: The code names for the American evacuations of Cambodia and Vietnam respectively were EAGLE PULL and FREQUENT WIND. The amount of cash burned in the courtyard of the DAO in Saigon before the last helicopter left was three-and-a-half million dollars American and eighty-five million piastres. The code name for this operation was MONEY BURN. I wouldn't say this is a great immortal book, but I absolutely adore it. Present tense.

Susan

I found this book incredibly similar to Freedom in that politics operate as the driving force of the narration and though the political contrivances are delivered straight they come off as almost entirely absurd -like some sort of understated "Catch 22". Having read Joan Didions autobiographical "Blue Nights" just before this fiction novel what struck me dumb was realizing Joan Didion had surgically dissected from her own life and bodily transplanted events into this narration. -Which I guess there is every indication and report that artists do but these examples were so painful and poignant -this book blew me away.

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