I feel I have been too dismissive towards Joan Didion these past few years. My disdain grew slowly, although punctuated with sadness. From my early 20s on, I read everything I could stand by her, including her novel Play It As It Lays. I gifted The White Album to several friends whom I hold truly dear. I count Slouching Toward Bethlehem a book of the Bible, my bible, the one I have created for myself. When I read After Henry, I practically had to spit the experience out of me. In this book, she accounts her loss as a writer after the death of her beloved and devoted editor Henry _________. Her loss is utterly convincing, especially when she describes her debt to him as an editor, and one can see that, in fact, he seemed to have co-written all her books. The writing Didion does in this book, without her now-dead editor, is so terrible, clunky and pitiful, I felt like, "Shit, woman. You can barely write." I felt like this because as I said, the writing style was awful; i.e. not Joan Didion in the way I had come to know her as a writer.
However, just now I read a quote by her -- she's quoted everywhere! -- where she says, "I wrote stories from the time I was a little girl, but I didn't want to be a writer. I wanted to be an actress. I didn't realize then that it's the same impulse. It's make-believe. It's performance." *
That's right, I think. She's absolutely right. And I feel connected to her again, deeply, like I did when I was younger. And I remember that she is human (always was), and a great one at that, one who has left a legacy of storytelling and life experience so textured and vibrant, so dark and dramatic, so mundane and pedestrian, few can come close to her brilliance. I want to apologize to the universe for having held her up to ridiculous standards. I'm sorry.
* Quoted from The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, by Betsy Lerner.