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The Last Thing He Wanted Paperback – September 2, 1997


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (September 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679752854
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679752851
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,925 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Elena McMahon is a reporter for the Washington Post and the unlikely inheritor of her father's complex and secretive life as an arms dealer for the U.S. Government in Central America. The year is 1984, and as she flies to an unnamed island off the coast of Costa Rica, she is oblivious to the spies, American military personnel, and the consequences of her father's errors that await her. She's also unprepared for the advances of Treat Morrison, an American diplomat whose service under six administrations has made him a "crisis junkie." Treat narrates this story, offering a unique perspective on Elena, a woman who abandons one life for another. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Brilliantly written and flawlessly structured, Didion's first work of fiction since 1984's Democracy employs her trademark barbed-wire prose to tell a highly elliptical tale of political intrigue. Elena McMahon, a middle-aged woman of substantial wealth, is divorced and covering the 1984 presidential campaign for the Washington Post when she abruptly walks off her beat and goes to Florida to visit her ailing father. Soon, she has passively allowed herself to drift into a shady arms deal running between Florida and Central America, an enterprise that her father had set up but is physically incapable of seeing through. Didion takes risks in her choice of a nameless narrator, a writer who has only a peripheral knowledge of the people and events around which the story revolves. Indeed, the narrator is piecing together that story considerably after the fact. As a result, the characters are virtually ciphers: the narrator explicitly refuses to provide traditional motivation for their actions. The book is compulsively readable, however, an intellectual thriller that recalls Graham Greene?except that whereas Greene was concerned with the spirituality of desolation, Didion's characters operate in a spiritual void. The cold, detached tone is more than compensated for by the sharpness of Didion's prose and the artful suspense of her plot. This is a major work by one of the shrewdest observers of America's political and cultural life. 100,000 first printing; Random House Audio book.
Copyright 1996 Reed 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

I found it labored and difficult to little effect.
Poogy
I found that I had to force myself to finish hoping to be swept away by the ending, but was instead left wondering what I had missed.
"obloy"
Joan Didion's The Last Thing He Wanted is a mysterious, gentle little book that ultimately is quite sad.
Ricky Hunter

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Ricky Hunter on May 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Joan Didion's The Last Thing He Wanted is a mysterious, gentle little book that ultimately is quite sad. Elena McMahon does a favour for her father and through that favour and through her we see the large unfathomable world of conspiraces and esponiage boiled to very human elements. There is a cold spareness to the writing that left this reader unmoved until after it was over and then the sadness powerfully washed over me. It is an unique and haunting look at the choices people make and the lives and events that one can affect with simple, irrevocable gestures. A beautiful novel.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By "hchomann" on December 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I bought this novel from a bargain bin (because of the cover design), put it on a shelf, and didn't open it for over a month. When I finally picked it up, I read only twelve pages before I grabbed my highlighter... The writing style is deceptively simple and highly structured--breathtaking, actually. And the story is fantastic (and well told). Highly recommended.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15, 1998
Format: Paperback
I'm a fan of Didion's pitch-perfect deadpan prose, but if you aren't, there are other joys in this novel. It offers a post-Orwellian assessment, in human, personal terms, of 1984, with a particular focus on the Fourth of July on an unnamed Caribbean island. Along with Don DeLillo's "The Names," Didion's novel is a masterpiece of American paranoia. It offers a dark yet plausible scenario of the collapse of American democracy under the weight of expansionist ambitions, mass media, and the stunning sang-froid of the silent majorities. A bit confusing at times, the novel is psychologically (and syntactically) complicated but apparently well researched--it is also very confrontational, relentless in its outrage and hopelessness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Orna Ross on November 1, 2012
Format: Paperback
Joan Didion is that rare thing: an American woman of letters whose pronouncements on that country's way of life are considered to bear great weight. Journalist, essayist, novelist and columnist, her intelligent and perceptive observations have probed her nation's psyche for three decades.

In this, her 10th book and fifth novel, she turns a fictional probe on the machinations of American politics in the Orwellian significant year of 1984. The story takes in the workings of US central administration and international diplomacy, as well as the American media and the shady operators who work on the fringes of State corruption.

Elena McMahon is a journalist reporting on the presidential election campaign when, to oblige her father, Dick, who "does deals", she goes to Central America in his stead. There she find herself adrift, a pawn in a game with rules she can only begin to grasp, at the heart of an arms trafficking operation and a political conspiracy around Treat Morrison, American Ambassador-At-Large.

Elena's story is related by an unnamed, "not quite omniscient author... who wanted the story to materialise for you [reader] as it did for me [narrator]". The novel employs such tricks throughout, calling attention to an awareness of its own methods and questioning the conventions of all modern narrative forms - fiction, journalism, thriller writing, reportage, even film scripts. "What we want here is a montage, music over," begins one chapter. "Angle on Elena. Alone on the dock... taking of her scarf and shaking out her hair."

Didion is a superb stylist with a number of signature techniques, the most characteristic being the way she repeats key phrases with minute but important variations.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
Joan Didion, author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays (FSG Classics), and several others, is one of America's most incisive contemporary novelists. She wrote this novel in the late `90's; the setting is in the previous decade, and concerns the actions of a few individuals working in conformance with America's unofficial policies of maintaining pliable power elites in the countries of "mare nostrum," the Caribbean. When "the cover" was blown on some of the most egregious of these actions, in the `80's, the media adopted the label "Iran-Contra" for them. That label covered the selling of arms to Iran, America's purported enemy of the time (and still?), and channeling the proceeds to fund the "Contras," call them rebels, terrorists or freedom-fighters, take you pick based on your political persuasion, who were trying to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, run by Daniel Ortega and the "Sandinistas." Ortega was "unfriendly" to the interest of America's power elites, which all too often means giving a fair shake to the non-power elites in his own country.

Didion's novel is a depiction of that dark underbelly of American foreign policy (for sure, carping about "human rights" plays no part) "necessary" to maintaining "friendly" governments. There are the machinations of the CIA; there are the "free-market" hustlers that are the arms dealers, still hoping to draw that card so high and wild they'll never have to deal another. There are the surreal conversations about the market falling on the price of anti-personnel mines (`69's) from three dollars to two, each.
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