It is a pleasure to read a book which deserves its reputation as a classic. Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem strikes a perfect balance between competing elements. Didion writes about the sixties but is older than hippies and drop-outs she depicts. She is young, but not that young, and this gives her much needed perspective. She is critical, while at the same time close to her subjects.
She is a master at creating characters. In a few strokes, she describes a person, and then goes on to explain his or her role in the piece she is writing. And unlike some of her later writing, where moments are dissected nearly atomically, Slouching is brisk. She takes a moment, examines it, and then moves on. She creates a mosaic of detail and big picture in perfect balance.
Didion also introduces herself into these pieces, adding a human element that moves this collection beyond strict reporting. Confessional pieces like “Goodbye To All That” show that we are dealing with a collection of writings that move beyond categories like journalism, memoir, fiction. A new form is being created here, and Didion masters it.