Who is Joan Didion anyway? In The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion, Tracy Daugherty decided to find the writer in her most public work. “Does the life reveal the art, the art the life?” he asks in the prologue (xxiii). If you find fault with The Last Love Song it will be in this decision — not in Daugherty’s entertaining style, which often reads like the New Journalism that Didion helped to establish; nor in his creative use of California’s history, which has been Didion’s literary touchstone.
While The Last Love Song documents Didion’s professional and personal partnership with her husband John Gregory Dunne in satisfying detail, it offers little about Didion that devoted readers did not already know. However, as Daugherty notes, the clues that Didion has left in her published work contain deflections as well as revelations. In over five decades of interviews, essays, fiction, and nonfiction, she has crafted a public persona “not entirely at odds with the Joan Didion in her writing but not completely consistent with it either.” The repetition of particular stories, told in particular ways “tended to create what we think of as a brand, and it was first promoted by Didion herself” (xxii).
Read the rest at Public Seminar (originally published December 23 2015.)