American writer Joan Didion died, she was 87 years old

from MATTEO PERSIVALE

He won the National Book Award in 2005 for non-fiction with The year of magical thinking. An article of cruel frankness sent First Lady Nacy Reagan into a rage

As a child she copied Hemingway’s stories in search of the secret that no one had ever managed to steal, the magic of the lightning-fast synthesis and transparent language that had changed American literature. When she grew up she proved to the world that that secret had been revealed to her. The mustache giant from Oak Park, Illinois, was reincarnated in the petite girl-well of Sacramento, California. Joan Didion, who died yesterday in New York a few days after her eighty-seventh birthday and ten years after the release of her latest book, Blue Nights, one of the masterpieces of terrible beauty and infinite pain of his old age, had long suffered from Parkinson’s disease (a beautiful documentary-love letter dedicated to her by his nephew actor Griffin Dunne showed it to us on Netflix four years ago without discounting physical decline, increasingly subtle in body and voice).

Like Hemingway, Didion took the English language of the Americans and brought it to a different level, in which the clarity of the style illuminates everything: the characters, the details, the author’s ideas. Overcoming even the master in matters of political analysis, which he was not interested in (too busy with hunting and fishing and the pursuit of his idea of ​​masculinity) and to which you have dedicated some of your most amazing pages, x-raying Washington’s powerful men of the past forty years (one of his articles of devastating, cruel frankness provoked at the time first lady of California Nancy Reagan a hate for journalists who never leaves her again).

Didion was a journalist and storyteller blending the techniques and rules of the two trades just like Hemingway before her, and applying a quiet and merciless sense of observation. Reading Didion you get the same sensation you get, from nearsightedness or farsightedness, putting on your glasses: everything becomes suddenly, finally, clear. The girl who dreamed of being a journalist won a Vogue contest and from the born California went to New York to write fashion captions (fundamental training: Didion teaches us, among other things, that to understand a woman one cannot fail to consider how she dresses and how she wears makeup).

A famous photo – American writers have who knows why the gift of photogenicity: in his eighties, he was Cline’s testimonial – portrays her chic girl in an English hunting wax jacket and Herms scarf surrounded by San Francisco freaks of the Summer of Love, the summer of love (and above all of LSD). Up ahead, here she is in her flowing tunic in the Malibu house with her Stingray coup. And in the beautiful bright kitchen with her beloved daughter Quintana Roo and her husband-mentor John Gregory Dunne, a good novelist and shrewd critic who made her suffer a lot but without whom, as we will see, she could not live.

Structurally incapable of sentimentality and for this very reason even more exciting, like Michelangelo Antonioni’s cinema, Didion published a novel in 1970 – Take it like this, translated into Italy by Bompiani and then by Il Saggiatore – who launched, in addition to hers, also the career of a generation of American writers after her (the young Bret Easton Ellis idolized her, copying the texts as she did with Hemingway) , and whose most famous scene is the terrifying scene of an abortion (then still illegal).

We must remember Didion as the creator of unforgettable and much-quoted phrases – easier to see the beginning of things, harder to see the end, we tell stories to ourselves to live, life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. One evening you sit down at the table and the life you knew is over, this city that quickly vanishes into the abyss between her real life and her favorite narratives, referring to New York – but in her the lapidary style is very difficult to translate (thankfully in Italy we have Vincenzo Mantovani and Delfina Vezzoli) always the tool to tell us the truth without frills. Politicians? Puppets, very cynical, displaced by events. Sometimes in good faith, sometimes less. His California? Recalled without nostalgia, with the skill with which he describes his frightening migraines.

Articles by Towards Bethlehem e The White Album e In the land of the fisher King (The Saggiatore) borrow the techniques of fiction and his novels such as Miami they are prodigies of journalism. Lavor, with John, also for the cinema but Hollywood, in its inevitable vulgarity, hardly understood its subtlety and he couldn’t really translate it on screen to commercialize it: she didn’t regret it.

The last years, those of old age, are opened and closed by two short and devastating books, in which the absolute depth of the Didionian gaze turns to the image of the mirror, the author and her life. There are two tales of irremediable losses: The year of magical thinking (The Assayer) that of John’s sudden death, at dinner, one evening like many others, he collapsing, she in the hospital (Didion is described to the doctor as a tough enough bone), and after the death of her husband the illness of her daughter Quintana, an ordeal that will lead to her death at a very young age and told in the final book of Didion’s career (subsequent issues were collected and re-editions), Blue nights (published by the Assayer).

Now that it’s gone, now that the big house on East 71st just a few steps from the empty park, it is right to remember Joan Didion with the last words of her latest book: I know what fragility is, I know what fear is. Fear is not for what has been lost. What has been lost is already bricked up in a wall. What was lost is already locked behind barred doors. Fear of what there is still to lose. You might say you don’t see what there is still to lose. Yet there is no day in her life when I don’t see her.

The year of magical thinking, from now on, it will be every year we think we see a writer similar to Joan Didion.

December 23, 2021 (change December 24, 2021 | 09:39)

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American writer Joan Didion died, she was 87 years old

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