Tuesday, September 13, 2005


This is my second Didion novel, and is better than the first, which was

The two books are thematically similar: a female American protagonist ends up in a Central American nation buffeted by underhanded political manipulation both domestic and DC-based. A Book of Common Prayer has as its protagonist one Charlotte Douglas who, through a series of personal cataclysms, ends up in an equatorial city in a fictional country at a time of upheaval. Her daughter is a detached Marxist terrorist, her husband is a civil rights lawyer and gun-runner, her ex husband is an awful bore and an academic of some standing. Charlotte herself is no one in particular, and she stands metaphorically for the clumsy US meddling in other nations' politics. A more modern, slightly less overtly covert Quiet American; Charlotte is not what she seems to the pseudo fascists in this backwater banana republic, but appearances don't matter when the shit hits the fan.

Didion's style here is precise, clipped, and nearly stoccato in its rhythyms--think Hemingway but more Minimalist. Her evocation of that time and place and its surreal politics is not only vividly realized, but prescient given the US-backed horrors of the 1980s and the fates of certain American nuns. Short and involving.

What can I say? I pre-ordered it from Amazon and they let you listen to 5 tracks when you do so. Brilliant (well, at least two of the available tracks). And I just got over a two-year obsession with Greendale. On Harvest Moon, the second in this trilogy, Young gave up the politics and the grungy guitars from Harvest and sang gentle love songs (as he did again on Silver and Gold). Now we're back to the country/grunge/folk mix, and he's full of (hopeful?) rage:

Somewhere a senator sits in a leather chair
behind a big wooden desk
The Arab who he killed
means nothing to him
he took his money
just like all the rest

The same tune gives a simultaneous nod to Chris Rock and Willie Nelson...Yeah, baby. Also included is Young's anti-theo-con hymn "When God Made Me," previewed to much acclaim during Live 8. It made me cry in Toronto last summer. I'm genuinely sorry for those of you who don't listen to Neil because he's "whiney" and looks like a scarecrow. He's also one of the key figures in American pop over the last 40 years, and is currently writing songs as good as the Buffalo Springfield/CSN&Y stuff that made him a legend.