A Book of Common Prayer

Paperback | April 11, 1995

byJoan Didion

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Writing with the telegraphic swiftness and microscopic sensitivity that have made her one of our most distinguished journalists, Joan Didion creates a shimmering novel of innocence and evil.A Book of Common Prayer is the story of two American women in the derelict Central American nation of Boca Grande. Grace Strasser-Mendana controls much of the country's wealth and knows virtually all of its secrets; Charlotte Douglas knows far too little. "Immaculate of history, innocent of politics," she has come to Boca Grande vaguely and vainly hoping to be reunited with her fugitive daughter. As imagined by Didion, her fate is at once utterly particular and fearfully emblematic of an age of conscienceless authority and unfathomable violence.

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From Our Editors

In this Conradian masterpiece of American innocence and evil set in the fictional Central American country of Boca Grande, two American women face the harsh realities, political and personal, of living on the edge in a land with an uncertain future. Writing with her signature telegraphic swiftness, the author creates a terrifying comme...

From the Publisher

Writing with the telegraphic swiftness and microscopic sensitivity that have made her one of our most distinguished journalists, Joan Didion creates a shimmering novel of innocence and evil.A Book of Common Prayer is the story of two American women in the derelict Central American nation of Boca Grande. Grace Strasser-Mendana controls ...

From the Jacket

Writing with the telegraphic swiftness and microscopic sensitivity that have made her one of our most distinguished journalists, Joan Didion creates a shimmering novel of innocence and evil. A Book of Common Prayer is the story of two American women in the derelict Central American nation of Boca Grande. Grace Strasser-Mendana controls...

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.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 8 × 5.14 × 0.56 inPublished:April 11, 1995Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0679754865

ISBN - 13:9780679754862

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Customer Reviews of A Book of Common Prayer

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Everything changes and nothing appears to: A review of A Book of Common Prayer by Joan Didion None of Didion’s books are easy books to read. A BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER is her third novel (1977) and is written in a striking juxtaposition of first and third person. The narrator is Grace Strasser-Mendana, nee Tabor and she begins by writing “I will be her witness” (11). She is witness to the life of a tourist to Boca Grande, una turista. Charlotte Douglas. Occupation: madre. Nationality: Norteamericana. Perhaps these facts are not enough. Grace continues, In fact she came here less a tourist than a sojourner but she did not make that distinction. She made not enough distinctions. She dreamed her life. She died, hopeful (11). The reader should also know that when necessary Charlotte, who doesn’t make enough distinctions, was also able to plunge a boning knife into a vat of boiling rice to make the necessary incision in the trachea of an OAS field working choking on a piece of steak at the Jockey Club (61). You should know this because she also believed that everything would turn out all right and that the world was populated by people like herself (60). The story also involves Marin, the child Charlotte “had lost to history” (13). It is also about Gerardo, lost to Grace, who is a friend of Marin. Unlike Charlotte, however, Grace makes distinctions and does not dream her life. She is dying of pancreatic cancer (21). Our narrator is reasonable and sane and is the refuge of the reader. There are things to add here. Things you should know. I should add that Marin was observed with her four best friends detonating a crude pipe bomb in the lobby of the Transamerica Building at 6:30 A.M. (58). And when Charlotte heard Marin’s voice saying “The fact that our organization is revolutionary in character is due above all to the fact that all our activity is defined as revolutionary” she stumbled. As the narrator observes, “She could parse the sentence but she could make no sense of it” (82). Note: you don’t really have to wonder how Philip Roth came up with the premise and contours of his Pulitzer Prize winning American Pastoral . . . Charlotte sees the details but life seems to elude her. The sociality of it. The elusiveness of life leads to indecision – painstaking attention to detail without being able to put it all together. If Charlotte is with two men, both of whom she has had a relation, to whom does she hand the bottle of wine to open? She can’t decide and breaks the cork (85). The character of Charlotte crafted by Didion is elusive. An outsider, de afuera. Despite the best efforts of the narrator to provide a witness to her death. To her murder. There are questions left unanswered. Obscurities. Inconsistencies. To make matters even more difficult, Charlotte remembers things how she wished they had been and Grace is often caught unaware. Sometimes. As the novel comes to a close we see it become increasingly fragmented. Chapters previously ten pages in length are diminished to two or three. Sometimes less. The notion of remembering things how one wishes they would be is a trademark of Didion’s writing. From Run River we can recall that Lily remembers Everett as a good man. Not that he was a good man, but it is what she would have wanted for him. Joan Didion has a kindred spirit with Joy Williams, I think. Williams was publishing in Esquire under the editorship of Gordon Lish. Didion was active in this aura of minimalism coupled with the energy of new journalism. If you like Didion and Williams try then turning to Bret Easton Ellis, The Informers or maybe even Generation X by Douglas Coupland. I would also recommend Denis Johnson's The Stars at Noon, also dealing with a woman living in Central America. Random Passages “Time and fevers,” Warren said finally. His voice was tired. “Burn away” (103). “I might have said a woman so unstable, but I told you, Charlotte performed the tracheotomy, Charlotte dropped the clinic apron at the colonel’s feet. I am less and less convinced that the word ‘unstable’ has any useful meaning except insofar as it describes a chemical compound” (105). “Charlotte had no idea that anyone else had ever been afflicted by what she called the ‘separateness.’ And because she fought it, she denied it, she tried to forget it, and, during those first several weeks after Marin disappeared and obliterated all the numbers, spend many days without getting out of bed. I think I have never known anyone who led quite so unexamined a life” (112). “Everything changes and nothing appears to” (155). [remember when Tyler Durden changed the film reel in Fight Club? This was the change-over. Nothing appears to change but someone has changed the reel, substituted one person for another] “Maybe there is no motive role in this narrative. Maybe it is just something that happened. Then why is it in my mind when nothing else is” (214) “We could have been doing this all our lives. We should do this all our lives” (223).
Date published: 2008-06-11

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From Our Editors

In this Conradian masterpiece of American innocence and evil set in the fictional Central American country of Boca Grande, two American women face the harsh realities, political and personal, of living on the edge in a land with an uncertain future. Writing with her signature telegraphic swiftness, the author creates a terrifying commentary on an age of conscienceless authority

Editorial Reviews

An articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time, a memorable voice."—Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Times Book Review"A novelist with important things to say about the dislocations of our time.... Joan Didion is stellar."—Newsday