Didion is a superb writer, and the irony in this novel is what makes it so great. The family that Grace marries into is a hoot. They take themselves seriously, soooooo seriously; it's a comic satire on Banana Republics. And what's Grace doing in this family, anyway?! It's the last place she should be. Until we learn that she's a trained anthropologist and amateur chemist. So think of the novel as her trying to study this family (and Charlotte's . . . poor, sad, clueless Charlotte), and she actually gives us a "report" on the family (the novel itself). BUT, she wants clear and definite answers (hence she tries to become a scientist through biochem, searching for the kind of answers she wants), but there are no clear and definite answers to human behavior . . . and she doesn't find them (I add ironically). Which she basically admits at the end, but she's wrong about that in that she really does give us a study of the family (and I think of Charlotte, too). If one takes at face value the novel, and Grace, and Charlotte, what is so good about it will be missed. Taken literally, they're all a bunch of nuts. Grace is detached from everything--he has to be after all, she’s in the midst of constant revolution; Charlotte is repressed and clueless (a rich allegorical California mother???)--no wonder Marin (her daughter) runs off to something real (however illusory); and the Mendanas? They're just plain nuts!
At first, I was not drawn into the story but the writing was clean and simple yet had depth. Surprisingly, I developed a great deal of empathy for the key character, Charlotte, and stayed with her right until the end. A skillful author. I enjoyed this book very much and it stays with me.
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