A Book of Common Prayer

Joan Didion

In the realm of novels by Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays seems to be the crowd favorite, but after reading that one I didn’t feel incredibly compelled to read another of hers. I suppose I needed one to appear at the right time, and so it did when I was buying some books for vacation and found a remaindered import of this one. It’s a cleanly honed story, narrated by an American expatriate living in the fictional Central American country. While this character is interesting enough in her own right, her focus is bearing witness to another norteamericana who found her way to Boca Grande. Within the first few paragraphs she summarizes:

Here is what happened: she left one man, she left a second man, she traveled again with the first; she let him die alone. She lost one child to “history” and another to “complications” (I offer in each instance the evaluation of the others), she imagined herself capable of shedding that baggage and came to Boca Grande, a tourist. Una turista. So she said. In fact she came here less a tourist than a sojourner but she did not make that distinction.
     She made not enough distinctions.
     She dreamed her life.
     She died, hopeful. In summary. So you know the story. Of course the story had extenuating circumstances, weather, cracked sidewalks and paregorina, but only for the living.

This is one of the rare books I found myself reading slower on purpose, not wanting to breeze through it too fast. It’s one I’m certain to return to as well.

[If you are also curious what “paregorina” means, this discussion is helpful.]