October 3- 9, 2002
The Outside In
Joan Didion: outsider? Well, maybe, at least for the purposes of Political Fictions (Vintage). See, Didion may be a major American woman of letters; she may have Hollywood execs and publishing magnates down to the house on a regular basis. But, you see, she's never been on This Week, and that's grounds enough to stage this collection of political reportage as an outsider's critique of inside baseball. Fictions isn't so much about politics as the way politics is covered. The word "narrative" is deployed with the abandon of a giddy English major, but if Didion often lapses into posturing, she offers a welcome alternative to the daily-scorecard approach to campaign coverage, the kind that values the candidate's ability to stay "on message" over what that message might actually be. Issues framed in the language of politics don't always translate into everyday English -- which might be why Dubya has so much trouble speaking it -- and Didion's noncombatant stance can be more willful than productive. She's at her best when the coverage is itself the story; "Clinton Agonistes" skewers the hysteria of l'affaire Monica, while "Political Pornography" lays into Bob Woodward's voluminously uncritical tell-alls. It's when Didion draws on what she knows, rather than what she doesn't know, that Political Fictions shines.
Joan Didion interviewed by Jeffrey Toobin, Tue., Oct. 8, 8 p.m., $12, Free Library of Philadelphia, 19th and Vine sts., 215-567-4341.