Joan Didion takes on quite an agenda in A Book of Common Prayer, only to not fulfill the vision of the novel.
First, there is the structure. The novel is written in a fragmented format, but this does little to add to the plot, nor advance the interests of the characters, or give the novel any sense of forward momentum. Rather, it confuses the reader, wondering where he or she is, and at what time.
Then there is character development. Overall, the characters are written very sketchily --- with nearly shorthand annotations. There is never the feeling the Didion is giving us much detail about their motivations and drives. This is particularly the case with Charlotte, the main character. So important are her actions, yet the narrative says little about what makes her act as she does. This goes as well for her daughter. She does something key to the entire novel, yet we don’t really learn why she does what she does, and how she got to that point.
Overall, the novel fails to please. Certainly, Didion does many things well. The sense of foreboding, the idea that bad things will occur, that bad people are around and ready to do their work, is always present. This tension will prevent most people from putting this novel down.