Where I Was From

I’d never read anything by Joan Didion until this book, probably not the way most people first read her work, but I tend to go for books available immediately at the library and this one was, so I checked it out. Her writing is amazing. This book is a mix of history, of digging deeply into economic trends, and of looking at the place where she grew up years after she left, California. Where I Was From is filled with exactly the type of essays that I love reading.

Didion starts by talking about the history of her family arriving and living in California, near Sacramento. She dives into what brought her people there but also how people who’ve lived there for generations feel about people who’ve just arrived. And she focuses on how living in California has changed.

But it was the group of essays on the area around Long Beach that struck me most. Didion dives into the changes to defense contracting and airplane manufacturing that change the economic fortunes of those living there by examining several cases of sexual assault and harassment brought against a gang of high school boys. She’s unflinching in slowly tearing away the mask of what the media or the community see as the root of the problems and showing how the way in which the changing fortunes of Mcdonnell Douglas effects the community profoundly, along with the surrounding LA area.

Didion doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but does so in a way that when she lands the punch she’s been leading up to, I was usually gobsmacked. I’ll be reading more of her work, especially the nonfiction.

What does it cost to create and maintain an artificial ownership class? Who pays? Who benefits? What happens when that class stops being useful? What does it mean to drop back below the line? What does it cost to hang on above it, how do you behave, what do you say, what are the pitons you drive into the granite? (p 111)