Pale Wire (Popscene)

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Sister, Sister

Joan Didion's Democracy is the story of two strong-willed and determined women. The first is Inez Victor, the wife of erstwhile presidential candidate Harry Victor. In public she is his prim, proper spouse. In private she is a fiercely independent and conflicted character, struggling with her love for another man and her wealthy family's dysfunction -- not to mention the grand sway of international events. The novel's main thrust is set in the Pacific theatre during the last days of the Vietnam War.

The other women is the author, Joan Didion. Inserting her own personality into the narrative, Didion blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction. She confides in the reader her stuggles writing the book, and speaks of her own interactions with the characters as if they were real people, as if she were journalist chronicling their lives.

A brisk, bright and funny novel, Democracy is unlike any I've ever read before. The narrative voice is strange, yet assured. Didion sets herself up to look silly ("Don't you get it?! I'm writing a novel about writing a non-fiction book about fictional characters.") but somehow manages to pull it off.

Although my paperback copy -- which I picked up at Goodwill for 25 cents, by the way -- was printed when Ronald was in the White House, Inez Victor couldn't remind me more of Laura Bush. Granted, the character might have been modeled on Nancy but there is something about Inez's spirit, that spark peeking out from behind the Stepford Wive exterior, that seems too sharp to be Nancy, and anticipates a figure like Laura.