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Political Fictions Paperback – August 27, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (August 27, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375718907
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375718908
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #398,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This collection of eight essays covering U.S. politics between 1988 and 2000 is a critical look at what author Joan Didion calls "the ways in which the political process did not reflect but increasingly proceeded from a series of fables about American experience." The New York Review of Books originally published these writings, and they hit all the major events of the previous dozen years: the election of George Bush (the first), the emergence of Bill Clinton, the Republican takeover of Congress, Clinton's impeachment, and the 2000 race between George Bush (the second) and Al Gore. During this period, Didion worked and reworked a theme of political disconnect. In examining who cast ballots in 2000 (for the first time, more than half of all voters had incomes about $50,000), she notes acidly in her foreword: "That this was not a demographic profile of the country at large, that half the nation's citizens had only a vassal relationship to the government under which they lived, that the democracy we spoke of spreading throughout the world was now in our own country only an ideality, had come to be seen, against the higher priority of keeping the process in the hands of those who already held it, as facts without application." She puts it a bit more succinctly elsewhere by describing "the largest political party in America" as "those who did not vote."

Didion brings a novelist's eye to her project, and she delights in exposing fakery. In describing one of Vice President Bush's visits to the Middle East in the 1980s, she notes that his advance team requested that camels be present at every stop--so that photographers could capture the supposed authenticity of the trip. Many of the essays in Political Fictions are, at a fundamental level, book reviews--and Didion's observations can be withering. She calls Newt Gingrich's novel 1945 "a fairly primitive example of the kind of speculative fiction known as 'alternate history.'" The accomplishment of Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, she says, is to have produced "books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent." Her targets are not always other writers: "No one who ever passed through an American public high school could have watched William Jefferson Clinton running for office in 1992 and failed to recognize the familiar predatory sexuality of the provincial adolescent." Needless to say, Political Fictions is not a celebration of American democracy. It is more like an indictment. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Eight essays by noted novelist and nonfiction writer Didion (The Last Thing He Wanted, etc.), many originally published either in whole or in part in the New York Review of Books, cover politics from 1988 through the 2000 election. At her best, Didion is provocative, persuasive and highly entertaining. She presents a fresh perspective on the oft-analyzed Reagan and Clinton presidencies, especially the Lewinsky scandal. As the title implies, her focus is how the press, think tanks, political strategists and opinion makers conspire to create stories that reflect their biases and serve their own self-interest. Didion's willingness to skewer nearly everyone is one of the pleasures of the book. The bestsellers of Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, according to Didion, "are books in which measurable cerebral activity is virtually absent." Cokie Roberts, along with the rest of the Washington press corps, is depicted as a whining moralist aghast at the public's failure to grasp the message in the Clinton-Lewinsky story, which is, as Didion quotes Roberts, "that people who act immorally and lie get punished." Another pleasure is Didion's forthrightness. She tackles directly Vice President Gore's decision to run away from Clinton during the 2000 election. She is unafraid to closely examine the increase in religious rhetoric in American politics. On that topic, many Americans will find disturbing Didion's analysis of the relationship between President Bush's compassionate conservatism, faith-based initiatives and evangelical Christianity. This book will offend many Democrats, particularly of the Democratic Leadership Council persuasion, and many more Republicans, but it is members of the press who fare most poorly. To Didion, they are purveyors of fables of their own making, or worse, fables conceived by political strategists with designs on votes, not news. (Sept. 18)~Forecast: Higher-brow readers who missed Didion's pieces in the New York Review of Books will grab this, with its first printing of 40,000. She will do publicity in N.Y., L.A., and D.C., and national media including NPR, Charlie Rose and C-Span. This is a selection of Reader's Subscription Book Club.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction. Joan Didion's Where I Was From, Political Fictions, The Last Thing He Wanted, After Henry, Miami, Democracy, Salvador, A Book of Common Prayer, and Run River are available in Vintage paperback.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By pnotley@hotmail.com on September 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
There is a general consensus about the Joan Didion style: cold, nervous, cutting, superior, carefully penetrating. It is not a style good for writing novels, but much better for writing essays. And this collection of essays collected from the New York Review of Books shows this style at her best. If she lacks the empathy or the compassion to be a truly great novelist, here her style really does work on a target that so well deserves it; the essentially hollow and selfish world that is American politics.
Didion has always had a sharp gift for observation. Who can forget her account of the Reagans at communion during the 1980 campaign? (Despite their ostentatious Christianity, the Reagans rarely attended church. So when they had to go to mass for PR purposes Nancy told her husband to just follow her example. When she accidentally dropped her wafer into the Communion Wine, Ronald did as well.) Who can forget her description of George Bush the first's tour of the Middle East in the mid-eighties? (In an attempt to peer bold and courageous, he had a photo opportunity in Jordan looking out with the Jordanian army at "enemy territory," which happened to be Israel.) This collection of essays looks at the 1988 campaign, then on to the 1992 campaign, the rise of Newt Gingrich, the emptiness of Bob Woodward, Dinesh D'Souza's book on Ronald Reagan, the Lewinsky affair, and the moralism of the 2000 campaign. Rather revealingly, we have Didion talking in 1988 to Madeline Albright, at the time a Dukakis foreign policy expert. Albright argued against a "no first use" policy of nuclear weapons on the grounds that without out the Soviet army would overrun Europe.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By killhaoleday@hotmail.com on December 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The convoluted Didion style bemoaned by a couple of reviewers here deserves a few words in its defense. The syntax, highly distinctive and mannered, is also steady and navigable once you get used to it. The quotations pulled by reviewer Peter Metzler as examples of poor writing were readable to me. I got the Hillary Clinton paragraph the first time because I'm familiar with Didion's framework, and I am also familiar with the topic she is writing about. Her style, slightly impatient in its way of throwing all the parts at you at once, demands that you keep up with it. I mean, all these essays are about delving into the buzzing "ether" of Washington and tracking (and trying to nail down) the coded language churning out of it. I'd be throwing things, too.
If you read Joan Didion's essays from the early part of her career, working forward, you can trace the peculiar manner as it emerges out of a mind insistent that empirical data lacks meaning, complex structures are always rotting, and writing is ultimately futile. What remains in the ruins is this highly deliberate, manicured style that is, above all, trustworthy-for the reader and the "migrainous, crabby" writer. Words are never out of place in Didion's prose. Her famous style gels during the period of "Miami" and "Sentimental Journeys"- her two masterpieces.
I wouldn't recommend Political Fictions to a new reader or someone unfamiliar with the players in Washington. There is a shift in these recent collected writings towards a kind of experimentally casual use of language within the syntax, where the author, comfortable with her method, relaxes the grip on her pen. The effect is thrilling for some of us, and apparently a chore for others.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on May 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
More than seventy years ago H.L. Mencken satirized the politicians of his day by counseling the American people that we had the best Congress money could buy. Even then many observers seemed to understand that power politics served the needs of the elite, not the man in the street. Yet gradually this trend toward a polity more and more exclusively organized and perpetuated for the sole purpose of benefiting a small upper class has become noticeably more decadent and extreme, and it is this trend toward extremism that noted social commentator Joan Didion takes issues with in this absorbing series of essays centering on the dangerous drift toward an elitist polity. Miss Didion is an author with an incredibly diverse background, and while she is primarily known for her works of fiction, she has also delivered some provocative and thoughtful best-selling non-fiction works such as "Slouching Toward Bethlehem". Here, with her set of essays, "Political Fictions", she demonstrates her wry and sardonic insight into the political machinations and creative politics that characterize the American polity. While the reading is enjoyable and edifying, her protestations sometimes get to be a bit much.
For Didion literally nothing is holy or sacrosanct, and she savagely lambastes the cynical manipulations she attributes to the political elite in this country, who she pictures as systematically and ruthlessly engaging and using their power in the act of exploiting current events in inventing what they then characterize as the political drama of democracy in action. And, to Didion's credit, she understands that nothing is really quite as simple as it seems on the surface.
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