Magazine January 24, 2022, Issue

Joan Didion’s Hard Way

Portrait of Joan Didion, Berkeley, Calif., April, 1981 (Janet Fries/Getty Images)

Joan Didion mattered. There really isn’t much more to say, although the nation’s magazines and journals were filled with the attempt after her death on December 23 at the age of 87. The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, Harper’s Bazaar, The Chronicle of Higher Education: thousands of words of obituary prose, like one last spasm of the sad zombie heart of American literary culture.

Certain themes, certain tropes, appeared over and over in the valedictions. Her prose was always said to be precise and biting. Her voice astringent. Her observations bracing. Her legacy secure. California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, declared that

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Joseph Bottum — Mr. Bottum is the director of the Classics Institute at Dakota State University and the author, most recently, of The Decline of the Novel.

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