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After Henry

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In her latest forays into the American scene, Joan Didion covers ground from Washington to Los Angeles, from a TV producer's gargantuan "manor" to the racial battlefields of New York's criminal courts. At each stop she uncovers the mythic narratives that elude other observers: Didion tells us about the fantasies the media construct around crime victims and presidential candidates; she gives us new interpretations of the stories of Nancy Reagan and Patty Hearst; she charts America's rollercoaster ride through ...

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In her latest forays into the American scene, Joan Didion covers ground from Washington to Los Angeles, from a TV producer's gargantuan "manor" to the racial battlefields of New York's criminal courts. At each stop she uncovers the mythic narratives that elude other observers: Didion tells us about the fantasies the media construct around crime victims and presidential candidates; she gives us new interpretations of the stories of Nancy Reagan and Patty Hearst; she charts America's rollercoaster ride through evanescent booms and hard times that won't go away. A bracing amalgam of skepticism and sympathy, After Henry is further proof of Joan Didion's infallible radar for the true spirit of our age.

In her latest forays into the American scene, the author of Miami, Democracy, and Salvador covers ground from Washington to Los Angeles and from a TV producer's mansion to the racial battlefields of New York's criminal courts. And along the way, she reveals the mythic narratives that other commentators miss.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Joan Didion has great instincts for metaphor. She can take an ordinary object . . . and make it as ominous as Hitchcock. . . . She's writing truths about American culture in the sand at our feet. . . . With Didion leading, you could well follow one of her paragraphs into hell."
Boston Globe

"[Didion's] reportorial pieces afford the pleasures of literature. . . . She is an expert geographer of the landscape of American public culture."
The New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One of America's premier essayists discusses Patty Hearst, the Central Park ogger, the 1988 Hollywood writers' strike, Reagan and Bush. May
Library Journal
Eleven essays, mostly from the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker , are collected here in honor of Henry Robbins, an early, influential editor of Didion who died recently. The pieces zigzag through politics and the current events of the last decade, ranging from California to New York and taking aim at the power hungry, at sentimentality, at the manipulation of language. We see George Bush using a trip to Jordan as a ``photo-op'' to make him look like a man of action and reporters willing to do what politicans want in return for special privileges. The Bradley/Yaroslavsky mayoral race and the rape of a Central Park jogger lead Didion to discuss the characters of Los Angeles and New York City. Didion's journalistic essays are often considered her best writing, and this representative sample will be appreciated by readers who like newsworthy reading.-- Nancy Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, N.C.
Kirkus Reviews
Didion's latest collection of previously published articles—her first since The White Album (1979)—reminds us that she's truly one of the premier essayists of our time. For all the disconnectedness she discerns throughout our public life, her prose, in its very complexity, beautifully plays against her subjects. In these pieces, mostly from The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker, Didion artfully points out the "chasm" between "actual life and its preferred narratives." Organized by place (Washington, D.C.; L.A.; New York), these carefully structured essays help define the culture of our cities, which is otherwise distorted by self-reference and a complicit media. Writing about Reagan-era tell-all books, Didion recasts the Great Communicator as the Fisher King, the keeper of the right-revolutionary grail. On the 1988 campaign trail, she watches a moveable "set," a series of staged events that reveal "contempt for outsiders" (i.e., average citizens). In California, Didion documents the "protective detachment" that's become part of the frontier legacy. Patty Hearst's survival instinct makes her a typical West Coast girl, as pragmatic as those who live with earthquake jitters. Narrative conflict emerges in Didion's account of the 1988 Screen Guild writers' strike, during which the industry's hierarchy reasserted itself. Likewise, the L.A. mayoral race of 1989 exposed the class and race struggles that everyone in that city would rather ignore. The longest piece here concerns the Central Park Jogger, "a sacrificial player in the sentimental narrative that is New York public life." Like her essay on the "Cotton Club" murder, this stunning bit of meta-analysis provesDidion's contention that every crime—to be of larger interest—needs "a story, a lesson, a high concept." When the theoretical clashes with the empirical, she says, narrative takes over, distorting, transforming, ameliorating. For Didion, truth is in the details, arranged so precisely in her seemingly candid prose. A collection to savor by a stylist in top form.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679745396
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/28/1993
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Edition description: 1st Vintage International ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 965,670
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Joan Didion was born in California and lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and seven previous books of nonfiction.


One of the strongest voices in American letters, Joan Didion has made her mark with fiercely intelligent novels (Play It As It Lays, A Book of Common Prayer), insightful nonfiction (Salvador, Political Fictions), and screenplays co-written with her late husband, John Gregory Dunne (Panic in Needle Park, Up Close and Personal).

Born in Sacramento, Didion attended the University of California at Berkeley, graduating in 1956 with a degree in English. After college, she moved to New York to work for Vogue magazine. Recognized immediately as a talented and insightful writer, she contributed frequently to such diverse publications as Mademoiselle, Esquire, The New York Times, and National Review; and in 1963 she published her first novel, Run River. She and Dunne were wed in 1964; and for the remainder of their married life, they divided their time between New York and L.A., collaborating frequently on Hollywood scripts while developing separate and distinguished literary careers.

In December of 2003, Dunne died of a massive heart attack, while the couple's recently married daughter, Quintana Roo, lay comatose in a New York hospital. Didion spent the next year blindsided by a grief so profound it propelled her into a sort of madness. She chronicled the entire experience in The Year of Magical Thinking, a spellbinding memoir of bereavement written in the spare, elegant prose that has become a hallmark of her work. Published in 2005 (scant months after Quintana's death), this elegiac book -- Didion's most personal and affecting work to date -- became a huge bestseller. It received a National Book Award and was turned, two years later, into a successful Broadway play starring Vanessa Redgrave.

Since her 1963 debut, Didion has alternated between novels and nonfiction, proving herself a wry and astute observer of America's shifting political and cultural landscape. Written nearly a decade apart, her two essay collections Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979) are considered classics of 1960s counterculture. Moreover, the author's identity as a seventh-generation Californian has colored her writing in profoundly significant ways. For our money, no contemporary American writer has examined more deftly the unique role of "place" in everyday life.

Good To Know

A few interesting outtakes from our interview with Didion:

"My first (and only, ever) job was at Vogue. I learned a great deal there – I learned how to use words economically (because I was writing to space), I learned how to very quickly take in enough information about an entirely foreign subject to produce a few paragraphs that at least sounded authoritative."

"I would like my readers to know that writing never gets any easier. You don't gain confidence. You are always flying blind."

Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, co-wrote seven screenplays, including: The Panic in Needle Park (1971), Play It As It Lays (1973), A Star Is Born (1977), True Confessions (1982), Hills Like White Elephants (1990), Broken Trust(1995) and Up Close and Personal (1995).

She is the sister-in-law of author Dominick Dunne and the aunt of actor/director Griffin Dunne.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 5, 1934
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sacramento, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., University of California at Berkeley, 1956

Table of Contents

After Henry 13
Washington 23
In the Realm of the Fisher King 25
Insider Baseball 47
Shooters Inc. 87
California 93
Girl of the Golden West 95
Pacific Distances 110
Los Angeles Days 145
Down at City Hall 174
L.A. Noir 198
Fire Season 210
Times Mirror Square 220
New York 251
Sentimental Journeys 253
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 28, 2012

    Great Collection Of Journalistic Works

    Anyone who is a fan of Didion or enjoys journalistic reads should pick this book up. Didion's style is unique and worth looking at. Her description and attention to detail is present in all of the pieces in this book. Also, Didion pushes the limits and shows that journalists do not have to censor themselves and can push buttons when they want. She does a great job of handling controversial topics and looking for different angles on stories.

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