Where I Was From

Joan Didion

Maybe I’m just a hater this week but I couldn’t find much to latch onto in Didion’s exploration of her history with California, including her pioneering ancestors’ treks to get there. Though it’s kind of a personal history placed within a larger context, even the parts about her family read strangely impersonal. It seems like each chapter starts out interesting and then gets laden down with too many facts without any real narrative structure. One begins looking at the painter Thomas Kincade — and I love her description of his paintings:

A Kincade painting was typically rendered in slightly surreal pastels. It typically featured a cottage or a house of such insistent coziness as to seem actually sinister, suggestive of a trap designed to attract Hansel and Gretel. Every window was lit, to lurid effect, as if the interior of the structure might be on fire.

— but then it shifts crisply several times and I lost the thread. I skipped ahead over and over until finally landing in Part Four. Here she leaves the facts and figures behind and delves into her mother’s death. She encapsulates so much in just a few sections, and her sometimes hazy memories give an appropriately fragile texture. I’m glad I didn’t miss that part.