Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I listened to Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking on audio until Sunday when my player broke. By broke I mean the audio stops in mid-sentence somewhere in chapter 19, I think, won't advance, won't shut off, won't do anything until I disconnect the device from the battery. When I reconnect, it plays the same couple of minutes of audio that I've heard most recently, stops again in mid-sentence, won't advance, won't shut off, won't do anything until I disconnect the battery.

Arrg.

Barbara Caruso is the reader, and I totally accepted her as Joan Didion herself, to the point that I knew I couldn't listen to the NPR interview until after I'd finished the book to avoid having my belief in the voice shattered. Then, in a discussion of how Didion came to write a scene in Play It As It Lays, Caruso mispronounces the main character's name and I lost all conviction in her anyway. Mar-eye-ah, she should say, not Ma-ree-ah. Shouldn't someone have pointed this out to Caruso? Didn't anyone remember?

At any rate, since a library copy of The Year of Magical Thinking is still evidently some weeks off, I picked up my well-worn copy of Play It As It Lays. Vivian Gornick has called it an enduring novel, and it continues to hold up for me. Some Amazon reviewers, on the other hand, clearly think it's of its time.

I've never read anything about its critical reception before, indeed, have been totally oblivious to the fact that it was nominated for the National Book Award back in '71. This time I'm reading all the reviews I can find. I've still a couple more yet to go and I need to reread the first one I read, which infuriated me Tuesday night, with its mix of obtuseness and insight, to the point that I couldn't sleep. It's certainly a novel that people hold widely divergent views on.

More to come.

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