Then She Came to the End
By Joan Didion.
Knopf. 188p. $25.
More than 30 years ago, Joan Didion channeled the dark heart of the American zeitgeist in her dazzling, kaleidoscopic essay “The White Album,” a chronicle of the collective cultural breakdowns of the late 1960s that became an instant classic. It included a portrait of one of the Manson murderers, an account of an evening with Doors singer Jim Morrison, and the story of Black Panther Party cofounder Huey Newton, bleeding from a gunshot wound as he stood in a hospital lobby, being told he could not see a doctor until he produced his insurance card. The essay consists of a series of flash-cuts among these scenes. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Didion wrote. What she meant was that, without realizing it, we human beings are constantly simplifying, clarifying, and ordering what is happening around us—or trying to.
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Joshua Wolf Shenk’s essays have appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, and other magazines. He is the author of Lincoln’s Melancholy (2006) and a forthcoming book about collaboration and creativity.more from this author >>