A New York Review of Books assessment of Joan Didion’s collection of political pieces

An instinctive populist in her politics — she voted for Barry Goldwater and credits Jesse Jackson and her sometime house guest Jerry Brown with having run the only campaigns relevant to real issues or real people in 1992—Didion visits Amer-ican politics with an anthropologist’s curiosity and the soul and ear of a writer who is sure to hear every false note in a serenade of false notes, which is what a campaign made up largely of sound bites and attack ads, incoherent half-thoughts and symbolic gestures, almost invariably becomes. What is not altogether to be expected is the feeling —passion is not too strong a word— with which she presses her argument that our politics are simply no longer our own, that they serve the interests of a “permanent professional political class” made up of politicians, their operatives, and talking-head journalists, who together concoct for our national campaigns “a public narrative based at no point on observable reality.”

A collection of dispatches and essays written over twelve years for this journal (whose coeditor, it ought to be disclosed, gets top billing in the dedication), the volume has anything but an occasional or random feel. Standing on its own, well apart from all the self-justifying insider accounts of recent American politics, and distinctive in Didion’s very considerable body of work for its sustained argument, Political Fictions is the freshest application of an acute literary intelligence to the political scene since Norman Mailer gave up going to conventions and demonstrations nearly three decades ago. It should not be classified as an entertainment—though it regularly entertains—or as a tour de force. Although it is leavened and sustained by occasional reportage from the campaign trail, what you have here is strong-minded polemic.

Joseph Lelyfeld, New York Review of Books: ‘Another Country’

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