This essay is so famous it is said to have spawned its own mini genre of essays about leaving New York. Like the song on the jukebox, it expresses the feelings everyone has about a common experience. The brilliance of the essay is that even in the act of writing it [Joan] Didion reenacts an emotional cliche, the narrator telling a past self how silly and stupid she was to fall for a story that everyone falls for. This self-conscious style, a personal matter conveyed at a distance, would become Didion’s signature. Even when she wrote about something as personal as her divorce, she did it at a remove, turning it over in her hand, polishing it to a shine that concealed certain roughnesses in the center.
An excerpt from journalist Michelle Dean's new book about 20th century female writers focuses on Joan Didion, the prolific memoirist who honed her style over many years of trial and error. It's a fascinating look behind the scenes of a creative process informed by personal heartache and difficulty.