So I hadn’t read the title essay from this collection before, and while I had heard the famous opening line, I didn’t know the broader context of her meaning. What sounded trite quoted, makes a lot more sense in full (as these things happen). The telling of stories in this case is a kind of narrative (and even myth) making and understanding about the contexts of our lives. The storytelling part is the way to make sense of (even when lying) of a particular moment just to reckon with the sheer volume of everything. And while the whole essay (which comes in at 30-40 pages) does this throughout, what I found was that the individual elements were more interesting than the whole, and I wanted them to be more fully explored. The three elements beyond Didion’s own life at the moment (coming off the success of previous works, being named a notable person, and getting a much more regular supply of work as a result) where she’s experiencing some kind of mental unhealth is very worthy of the essay, and like the other three pieces, should be the subject of its own piece. Those three non-Didion parts are watching the Door feckless attempt to record a third album, meeting up with Black Panther members in Oakland amid recent arrests, and reacting to the Manson murders (Didion was friends with Polanski and Sharon Tate).
This speaks to some of the larger frustrations with a lot of these essays. At the moment when Didion begins to says something really incisive, she pulls back. She does this talking about the women’s movement, the Black Panthers (although her description of James Baldwin’s sheer agony at listening to the banal debate over Black humanity is pretty funny), and a few other place. So while these are more serious and ultimately important moments in her writing (at least in their subjects) there’s less there than there should be. So oddly, the less important feeling essays about Jerry Brown, the highways, and other California issues are better because they’re more fully explored. I still like the collection, but there’s too much of catching one’s breath right at the moment of speaking for its own good.