I once watched a hysterically sycophantic male academic ask Didion about her description of what she wore in Haight-Ashbury so that she could pass with both the straights and the freaks. “I’m not good with clothes,” he admitted, “so I don’t remember what it was.”
Not remembering what Joan wore in the Haight (a skirt with a leotard and stockings) is like not remembering what Ahab was trying to kill in Moby-Dick.
Women who encountered Joan Didion when they were young received from her a way of being female and being writers that no one else could give them. She was our Hunter Thompson, and Slouching Towards Bethlehem was our Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He gave the boys twisted pig-fuckers and quarts of tequila; she gave us quiet days in Malibu and flowers in our hair.
I mean, I get her point, and I probably have made the same assertion about Jean Rhys (but more, girls should read Jean Rhys, not girls do read Jean Rhys, the difference seems crucial). And I adore Didion - I mean, I am a writer who went to a sport-competitive journalism school, the New Journalists were my literary lifeline. But my early twenties was way more gonzo and tequila than flowers in my fucking hair - I mean, I am and was drawn to Didion because she was a basketcase who made lists of her clothes, also because she's a brilliant, beautiful writer, and yet... Flanagan seems to dismiss Didion the writer and suggest that like Plath Didion is idolized for a persona, one she characterizes as that of the depressive pixie dream girl:
Thompson’s work was illustrated by Ralph Steadman’s grotesque ink blots, and early Didion by the ravishing photographs of the mysterious girl-woman: sitting barelegged on a stone balustrade; posing behind the wheel of her yellow Corvette; wearing an elegant silk gown and staring off into space, all alone in a chic living room.
This reminds me to order up Flanagan's new Girl Land from the library. I'm stewing in these things and wondering what's there-there.