The literary world is both atwitter and aghast. Joan Didion, whose best-selling memoirs The Year of Magical Thinking and the new Blue Nights recount her disorienting, disconsolate grief over the deaths of her husband and her daughter, respectively, is preparing to reveal the subject of her next book.
"I could not let go of the topic," Ms. Didion said. "Mourning and bereavement, neither of which is escapable, no matter how long we put off thinking about it, has become my preoccupation. Or, should I say, that it has not let go of me? That kind of sadness, the kind that wraps around your shoulders like a heavy shawl, does not let go. Life, it seems, changes, and your work changes with it."
Knowing that an announcement of the object of her latest lamentation is imminent, many of those closest to Ms. Didion personally and professionally have had strong reactions.
Her longtime agent, Lynn Nesbit, commented by email that, although she has worked with Ms. Didion for more than three decades, they’re “really not that close.”
"She’s on some kind of streak," said Robert Silvers, 81, who for many years has been her editor at The New York Review of Books. “She’s never had success like this and she’s not going to stop now. It would be like asking Hershey’s to stop making chocolate. I just have my assistant tell her I’m not here. I love Joan, I really do, but I’m nearly 82 years old and I’ll be damned if I get in the way of her stink eye.”
"I’ve never felt better," said Sonny Mehta of Alfred A. Knopf, her most recent publisher. "Anyway, it’s contractual. I don’t know who it’s going to be yet, but if she wants someone to publish her, it ain’t gonna be about me."
"Almost everything in our lives is revocable," remarked Ms. Didion. "Our love, our democracy, the wines we drink in the summer. The only irrevocable thing is death, though our minds, passively accustomed to the accommodations of a decadent culture, are unable to process irrevocability. This is my afflatus now, the direction my writing is taking. I cannot wait for death to visit me again to pursue this dreadful muse."
Quite a different response was elicited from one of Ms. Didion’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders, Michiko Kakutani, the lead book critic at The New York Times. Having for years championed her work, Ms. Kakutani said it would be an “honor” to become the focal point of Ms. Didion’s despondency. “I can only hope that her reflections on my death inspire a book containing the same coruscating yet controlled prose that she brought to the passing John Gregory Dunne and Quintana Roo,” Ms. Kakutani said, referring to Ms. Didion’s late husband and daughter. “My one regret is that I won’t be alive to review it.”