Democracy

ISBN: 0679754857
ISBN 13: 9780679754855
By: Joan Didion

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Reader's Thoughts

Holly

This was my first book by Didion, and I was in over my head. The writing was spare and, thus, one knew every section was added under scrutiny - especially when Didion dropped hints about adding this or eliminating that. It's a post modern masterpiece; I wonder whether it's taught in university classes?I read an amazing analysis of the book by Alan Nadel in "boundary". He believes the novel takes a post-modern angle in the way Didion alludes to the novel that wasn't written but could have been, given the same jounalistic storyline... Nadel writes of the parallels between this method and the way democracy is the ideal (the unrealized story) in a society of false steps (despite potentially noble intentions).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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...

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.

Ed

I am slowly re-reading much of Didion's work--I have read almost everything she has published (may have missed some uncollected short stories, if there are such things of hers) and taking time to savor her shockingly beautiful and telling prose. I was knocked out by "Democracy" the first time I read it and was even more impressed this time.

Jessica

I'm slowly making my way through Didion's novels, and this one was a surprise. In her non-fiction, she has a way of writing about things and inserting herself into subjects like "Hawaii" and "water sources in southern California" - always interesting; however, I've never seen her do it in her fiction until this novel.She acts as another character nearly, at first just as the writer and divulges in how she means to introduce these characters and their tragedy. In this way, it almost reads like a true first-person account. Once again, many great sentences I relished in, as I usually do with Didion.

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

Jesse Call

I'll have to admit I was initially put-off by Didion's narrative interjections -- it seemed kitschy at best, and for her to once again demurely mention the college textbook she was featured in for her essays seemed particularly self-aggrandizing -- but as I pushed through the novel, I came to find her impatience for traditional plot devices in what is a fundamentally boring story quite charming. This is a book that isn't really about "the story" in the conventional sense; to be quite honest, the story is boring, but what isn't is the structure of the novel itself. Didion is subversively prodding us to challenge the linear narrative we've grown so used to. Much like we know much of the fallout of Vietnam going into the book, we also know a great deal about Inez' fate, and Didion isn't shy to remind us of this as she pipes in at different points throughout the novel. Perhaps this holds great significance as to what we already know about our own lives, but refuse to fully acquiesce to until the weight of reality all but makes it so -- we may not necessarily be linear thinkers in a two dimensional world, but it is certainly convenient to think so. Not doing so would challenge our need to form a narrative in what may well be the meaningless void of existence that we're all renting space in. It was Didion, after all, who laid the claim that "We tell stories in order to live," and that is precisely what her characters do throughout this short, but absolutely significant, book that is a must for anyone with the slightest interest in Didion or the post-war world her mind inhabits.

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.

Mitchell

When I first read this book in 1984 I was absolutely staggered. Immediately, I flipped back to the beginning and read it again. I'm sure I've read it a couple of more times since, and this latest re-read has merely confirmed that this must be my all-time favorite book. Although I've been land-locked for the past number of years, I am -- in essence -- a person of the Pacific, and Didion's book IS the Pacific.Still, it's a complicated little book and demands more from the reader than most. One must pay attention to all the tiny details and have more than a passing knowledge of the locales -- from Hawaii, to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and the scattered island in between (Guam, Kwajalein, Johnston) -- including the names of the airports, the capitals and the history of these places in the 50s, 60s, 70s.The title is curious. I've never heard a definitive explanation for it, only hints of it being compared to Henry Adams' book of the same title. My take is that it's an ironic title. The book is actually about American colonialism -- our original takeover of Hawaii and our hubris in thinking a war in Vietnam was 1) winnable and 2) appreciated by that country.But mostly I love this book for the sound of it -- the prose is like poetry and begs to be read aloud. It is, in fact, a mystery, a romance, and a political critique -- but clothed in shear elegance.

Kyle

Structurally this book sort of demolished my mind. I'm in awe.

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