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Inez Victor knows that the major casualty of the political life is memory. But the people around Inez have made careers out of losing track. Her senator husband wants to forget the failure of his last bid for the presidency. Her husband's handler would like the press to forget that Inez's father is a murderer. And, in 1975, the year in which much of this bitterly funny novel is set, America is doing its best to lose track of its one-time client, the lethally hemorrhaging republic of South Vietnam.As conceived by Joan Didion, these personages and events constitute the terminal fallout of democracy, a fallout that also includes fact-finding junkets, senatorial groupies, the international arms market, and the Orwellian newspeak of the political class. Moving deftly from Honolulu to Jakarta, between romance, farce, and tragedy, Democracy is a tour de force from a writer who can dissect an entire society with a single phrase.
public life is privacy, Inez, that’s an easy shot. The hardest part about Washington life is finding a sitter for the Gridiron Dinner. The fun part about Washington life is taking friends from home to the Senate cafeteria for navy-bean soup. You’ve tried the recipe at home but it never tastes the same. Yes, you do collect recipes. Yes, you do worry about the rising cost of feeding a family. Ninety-nine per cent of the people you know in Washington are basically concerned with the rising cost of
the rain. She remembered rain streaming down the big windows, rain blowing in the trees, the branches brushing the glass and the warm light inside. She remembered Jessie crowing with delight and pointing imperiously at a poodle seated on a gilt chair across the room. She remembered Harry unbuttoning Adlai’s wet sweater, kissing Jessie’s wet hair, pouring them each a half glass of white wine. There was an entire day in Hong Kong that she managed to reconstruct, a day she had spent alone with
Vietnam to either Harry or Adlai. “Dick calls, he’s still on Guam,” Billy Dillon said. He had found a chicken leg in the refrigerator and was eating it. “He says he ‘thinks’ he can get a flight up to Honolulu tonight. I say what’s to ‘think’ about, he says Air Micronesia’s on strike and Pan Am and TW are booked but he’s ‘working on’ a reservation. He’s ‘working on’ a fucking reservation. A major operator, your brother-in-law. I said Dick, get your ass over to Anderson, the last I heard the
listen for but she listened anyway, whenever she could not sleep or wanted to hear a human voice. “Mother wants you to call home,” the American Service Radio announcer in Saigon would say when it was time for the final phase of the evacuation, and then a certain record would be played. The record to be played was Bing Crosby singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” “I could do better than that,” Inez had said when Jack Lovett told her what to listen for. “I mean in the middle of April. Out
happen. In Jack Lovett’s system all behavior was purposeful, and the purpose could be divined by whoever attracted the best information and read it most correctly. A Laotian village indicated on one map and omitted on another suggested not a reconnaissance oversight but a population annihilated, x number of men, women, and children lined up one morning between the maps and bulldozed into a common ditch. A shipment of laser mirrors from Long Beach to a firm in Hong Kong that did no laser work