Note to Caitlin: Joan Didion Is Not Your BFF

There’s no doubt that Joan Didion is a lightning rod for women writers of my generation. In fact, she’s been a skinny pole defying the whole big thundering sky of publishing and journalism for the past five decades.

With Didion, you love her or you hate her or you have decidedly mixed feelings about her work—as I do. But until I read Caitlin Flanagan’s “The Autumn of Joan Didion” in the January/February 2012 issue of the Atlantic, I wouldn’t have believed anyone could dismiss her in quite this way:

“Ultimately Joan Didion’s crime—artistic and personal—is the one of which all of us will eventually be convicted: she got old. Her writing got old, her perspective got old, her bag of tricks didn’t work anymore.”

Her personal crime? Even as a punchy magazine exaggeration, this feels ungracious. I have trouble with Flanagan’s article for a host of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with her pan of Blue Nights, Didion’s latest memoir. Flanagan is right about Didion’s stylistic tics, but she is profoundly wrong about the impact of her later work.

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