“…the book is very…sordid, isn’t it? And tough – by which they mean not a tough read, but hard-hearted.”
Not being a fan of book intros (spoilers, love) I generally wait until the end of a novel to see what has been illuminated. In my version, the introduction by David Thomason eloquently summarized the complicated appeal of this book. It is compelling, complex, and has unyielding momentum. The question is, what is it, and thus the protagonist Maria, moving toward? The answer? Nothing.
Estranged from her husband and with a child institutionalized Maria wanders through life. She half-heartedly looks to her past for understanding, but vascillates between victim and martyr. The 1960s may be known for sex, drugs, and rock and roll but this story shows the bleak reality of excess, ennui, and a listless existence.
I haven’t read any Didion, nor did I know anything about this story so this may be an obvious critique, but I saw a lot of parallels between this novel and Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening.” (As a southerner and English major I could not escape this tome.) Both female protagonists are prisoners of circumstance who take no ownership over their lives and give up, in one way or the other.
This story is moving and heartbreaking, and though a difficult read, a good one and a classic for a reason.