“What makes Iago evil? some people ask. I never ask.”
What makes Didion a diva? I ask instead.
In lieu, that is, of the classic opening line from Joan Didion’s 1970 novel Play It As It Lays, the kind of tone-setting, attention-getting sentence with which all of her books begin.
I am thinking of early Didion in particular: the Pulp Fiction Didion of Run River and of the screenplay for Panic in Needle Park (as opposed to the woman responsible for Redford and Pfeiffer’s “Up Close and Personal”). The New Journalism Didion who drank “gin-and-hot-water to blunt the pain and took Dexedrine to blunt the gin” to finish Slouching Towards Bethlehem and who included in The White Album a document from her own report as a psychiatric patient, as evidence of a “not inappropriate response to the summer of 1968.” The Lady Didion in the jacket photo for A Book of Common Prayer, with a gardenia in her hair (borrowed from Billie Holiday), or the Undercover Didion photographed for Salvador, hidden behind big, black sunglasses (picked up from Jackie Kennedy Onassis).
But I am also thinking of the Didion who reemerged in 1997 with The Last Thing He Wanted. “Her first novel in 12 years!” the promotional ads proclaimed, suggesting a triumph of Didionesque resolve over Didionesque ennui. The Diva Didion who came back on top (like Judy at Carnegie Hall or Callas at the Met) with a bestseller, due, in no small part, to her loyal gay following.
What makes Didion a diva? Why do gay men worship her? I send my question out upon the Internet and pour myself a gin-and-hot water.