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January 9, 2008

We all prefer the magical explanation

Have been reading/catching up. Penelope’s Way by Blanche Howard. Am just about to start What is the What by Dave Eggers, which I’ve been putting off for too long. Put off by prospect of the headiness, perhaps. Though Dave Eggers has never let me down before, and certainly the book has been buzzed about by many people I respect. I suspect I will be incredibly impressed.

And speaking of fictional autobiographies, I’ve just finished reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion. “Speaking of…” I say, for Joan Didion’s fiction similarly seems to challenge the fic/non-fic divide. Now I am such a fan of Joan Didion, and partly because she’s a bit preposterous. I don’t enjoy preposterousity universally, but I adore any woman who can embody the trait and still come off as brilliant. (This caveat thus explaining why I don’t love that Coulter person). I love Didion’s migraines, and that she went to the supermarket in a bikini and wanted a baby, and cried in Chinese laundries. And if one more person tells me that although they like her non-fiction, her fiction is disappointing, I will yawn.

Not because they’re entirely wrong– I’m not sure about that. Certainly I’ve never read a Joan Didion novel that stirred in me anything like what I felt for Slouching Towards Bethlehem, but that to me is beside the point. Which it might not be. It is distinctly possible instead that I am just feeling awfully protective of Didion, but still, I think, to dismiss her fiction is tiresome.

Whether or not her fiction is enjoyable (and it can be, but in a slightly uncomfortable way) something fascinating is going on with it. Joan Didion is the one writer who completely defies my theories of fiction’s truth having more bearing on reality than that of non-fiction. I am not sure I fully understand it, but it’s something in her coldness, her acuity. In her non-fiction Joan Didion assembles the world and lets it speak for itself and it’s in this speaking that the life creeps in. Whereas in her fiction when she attempts the very same thing (for this is what she does), the made-upness is pervasive. When she assembles these made-up things, whatever speaks is more an echo than a voice. An echo of what, I don’t know. All of which is really odd. And doesn’t necessarily mean that her fiction is unsuccessful; Didion is too smart for that. Rather I think of her as treating fiction as a project I’ve still not got my head around.

3 thoughts on “We all prefer the magical explanation”

  1. tim says:

    I hope that you enjoy What is the What. I thought that it was a tremendous book.

  2. alyssa says:

    i am reading what is the what too. there have been more than a handful of times this year when i read your blog only to discover that we were reading the same book at the same time or shortly before or after each other! look forward to reading your impressions of the eggers novel.

  3. Kerry says:

    Already I am enjoying What is the What. Your championship definitely encouraged me to try it, Tim. And Alyssa, it’s awfully strange, isn’t it? I could hardly believe it as I read your books list.

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