L.A. Author Joan Didion Is Having a Moment (Again)

It’s a paradox: If you’ve never read Joan Didion, you’ll be given a look that’s part surprised scorn (in the words of Love, the heroine of the new season of Netflix’s You, “You haven’t read Joan f--king Didion!?”) and part envy (because there’s all that joy of connection and discovery ahead of you). The California-born writer—who first commanded national respect and never let it go starting in the ’70s as an essayist, novelist and screenwriter—has an incisive intelligence and sardonic wit, along with a relatable undercurrent of anxiety (dread: fashionable now more than ever, it seems). Didion is the sui generis voice of a generation, the cool girls’ literary hero.

Now a bunch of these cool girls (and a couple of guys) have written essays about how much her opinions, style and overall output have meant to them, collected in a new book called Slouching Towards Los Angeles: Living and Writing by Joan Didion’s Light, edited by Steffie Nelson. The clever anthology comes together so naturally, you can’t believe it hasn’t been done before: One contributor is a Brentwood native who talks about how the neighborhood where she lived (right near Didion’s family) has been overtaken by McMansions, but how the writer’s sense of place captured an ’80s Los Angeles forever in time. Another essayist is a small-town girl turned fashion magazine writer-cum-novelist whose professional trajectory parallels Didion’s. And there are personal touches too—observations from a culinary journo who cooked her way through Didion’s hand-scrawled recipes, deciphering the craft of a famously elliptical mind.

In short, it’s not just a great read for Didion fans but also for anyone craving a familiar voice to take in the many facets of L.A. life: gentrification, feminism, depression, motherhood and the psychic price of buying into California’s golden dream.

anne hathaway
Laura T. Magruder/Netflix


Another plus of reading Didion is that she, as a migraine-riddled anxiety sufferer, is the queen of writing heroines who are bummed out but still super compelling. That describes the central character in The Last Thing He Wanted, the new Netflix movie adaptation of a Didion novel. Anne Hathaway stars as Elena McMahon, a political reporter whose passionate pursuit of a civil war in Central America starts out pretty dark and plunges exceedingly dark as the plot progresses. As heavy as that sounds, guess what? It’s really good! Hathaway gives a nuanced and riveting performance, Ben Affleck is super convincing as a shady politico, Rosie Perez is plucky as a photographer colleague and Willem Defoe is heart-wrenching as Elena’s ailing father looking to make one last big, illegal score. Shot in a style that recalls the paranoid, antihero-filled thrillers of the 1970s, this film is an antidote to the shiny, happy fictions so predictable today. You can’t help but wonder how the film was even green-lit, and with such big stars. Turns out that the acclaimed director Dee Rees (MudboundPariah) was introduced to the book by the woman who would become her wife.

It all underscores how Didion’s work is just as relevant today as it was when her books were first published—and that now, more than ever, we cool women have each others’ backs.

dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...