Authorial voice in Joan Didion's Nonfiction

Michael Talis English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

In the works of Jonathan Swift and Tom Wolfe the author's voice is not readily apparent to the reader. Swift cloaks himself in absurdity, while Wolfe hides within his cast of characters. In contrast to the more involved techniques of these authors, Joan Didion's writing appears to be fairly straight-forward and, at times, seemingly obvious. Take these passages for example:

In a few lines of dialouge in a neurologist's office in Beverly Hills, the improbable had become the probable, the norm: things which happened only to other people could in fact happen to me. I could be struck by lightining, could dare to eat a peach and be poisoned by the cyanide in the stone. The startling fact was this: my body was ofering a precise physiological equivalent to what had been going on in my mind. "Lead a simple life," the neurologist advised. "Not that it makes any difference we know about." In other words it was another story without a narrative. [The White Album, p. 47]

Of course there was nothing crucial about that night at Eugene's in 1968, and of course you could tell me that there was certainly no harm and perhaps some good in it. But its curious vanity and irrelevance stay with me, if only because those qualities characterize so many of Hollywood's best intentions. ["Good Citizens," p. 88]

Given that Didion's points seem to be more clearly spelled out than those of Swift or Wolfe, do we find one author's approach to be more effective than another's? Is the cultural criticism any more or less biting depending on the technique? How and why?


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Last modified 6 February 2002