Joan Didion has released her latest work, South and West: From a Notebook. The book is a compilation of two extended, unpublished, unfinished excerpts from her travels in the 70’s. The LA Review of Books calls it “an odd and compelling book — rooted utterly in a past now all but lost to us, while also incredibly timely and relevant.”
The first excerpt, titled Notes on the South, is filled with her journal entries from a trip she and her husband John Dunne took in the summer of 1970. During this trip, the two traveled through Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. She writes about the changes the Southern states were going through at that time. This part of the country was still clinging to their old ways of life, yet forced to face the changes of a shifting society and nation. Didion explains how the culture affected her writing. “The way in which all the reporting tricks I had ever known atrophied in the South.” The author, a native of California felt at a loss there, noting, “I was underwater in some real sense, the whole month.”
The second excerpt, California Notes, is compiled of Didion’s observations from the time Rolling Stone sent her to report on the trial of Patty Hearst. In “the Golden State,” a state that she once called home, she finds herself rediscovering what she, in her earlier years, knew so well. She writes of her visit in the 70’s, when she “got quite involved in uncovering [her] own mixed emotions.” This experience led her to write Where I Was From, a collection of essays published in 2003.
While both excerpts seem to portray two very contrasting depictions of two very different parts of the country, what’s evident throughout the book is Didion’s ability to reflect so eloquently on her experiences. The book shares a raw look into the author’s most inner thoughts, something Didion is so well-known and loved for.