South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion review – back to the future of the US
These prescient essays from 1970 record the California writer’s reflections as she travelled through America’s ‘gothic’ deep south
Monday 25 September 2017 10.00 BST
n 1970 Joan Didion – a good novelist but one of America’s great essayists – sentenced herself to a hardship posting. She volunteered to spend a month aimlessly on the road in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, thinking that her trip “might be a piece”. She never wrote the article; now, luckily, her notes have been unearthed, along with some later musings about California, where she then lived. The result is a little book with a chilling power of prediction. In the intervening decades, the isolated, somnolent rednecks Didion encounters – people who even back then before cable news fed on information that was “fifth-hand, and mythicised in the handing down” – acquired an inordinate political power because of demographic shifts; last year they had their revenge when, in collusion with rust-begrimed losers from the midwest, they elected a president.