March 17, 1984
ABOUT THE BOOK
A gorgeously written, bitterly funny look at the relationship between politics and personal life. Moving deftly between romance, farce, and tragedy, from 1970s America to Vietnam to Jakarta, Democracy is a tour de force from a writer who can dissect an entire society with a single phrase.
Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband’s handler would like the press to forget that Inez’s father is a murderer. And, in 1975, America is doing its best to lose track of its one-time client, the lethally hemorrhaging republic of South Vietnam.As conceived by Joan Didion, these personages and events constitute the terminal fallout of democracy, a fallout that also includes fact-finding junkets, senatorial groupies, the international arms market, and the Orwellian newspeak of the political class.
A brilliantly maneuvered novel…Didion has accomplished a mix of fictional rush, psychological acureness and political sting.
—Los Angeles Times
Read an Excerpt
The light at dawn during those Pacific tests was something to see.
Something to behold.
Something that could almost make you think you saw God, he said.
He said to her.
Jack Lovett said to Inez Victor.
Inex Victor who was born Inez Christian.
He said: the sky was this pink no painter could approximate, one of the detonation theorists used to try, a pretty fair Sunday painter, he never got it. Just never captured it, never came close. The sky was this pink and the air was wet from the night rain, soft and wet and smelling like flowers, smelling like those flowers you used to pin in your hair when you drove out to Schofield, gardenias, the air in the morning smelled like gardenias, never mind there were not too many flowers around those shot islands.
They were just atolls, most of them.
Sand spits, actually.
Two Quonsets and one of those landing strips they roll down, you know, the matting, just roll it down like a goddamn bathmat.
It was kind of a Swiss Family Robinson deal down there, really. None of the observers would fly down until the technical guys had the shot set up, that’s all I was, an observer. Along for the ride. There for the show. You know me. Sometimes we’d get down there and the weather could go off and we’d wait days, just sit around cracking coconuts, there was one particular event at Johnson where it took three weeks to satisfy the weather pepople.
Wonder Woman Two, that shot was.
I remember I told you I was in Manila.
I remember I brought you some little souvenir from Manila, actually I bought it on Johnston off a reconaissance pilot who’d flown in from Clark.
Three weeks sitting around goddamn Jonston Island waiting for the weather and then no yield to speak of.
Meanwhile we lived in the water.
Caught lobsters and boiled them on the beach.
Played gin and slapped mosquitoes.
Couldn't walk. No place to walk. Couldn't write anything down, the point of the pen would go right through the paper, one thing you got to understand down there was why not much got written down on those islands.
What you could do was, you could talk. You got to hear everybody’s personal life story down there, believe me, you’re sitting on an island a mile and a half long and most of that is the landing strip.
Those technical guys, some of them had been down there three months.
Got pretty raunchy, believe me.
Then the weather people would give the go and bingo, no more stories. Everybody would climb on a transport around three A.M. and go out a few miles and watch for first light.
Watch for pink sky.