The Last Thing He Wanted

Paperback | September 2, 1997

byJoan Didion

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In her first novel in twelve years, the legendary author of Play It As It Lays and Slouching Toward Bethlehem trains her eye on the far frontiers of the Monroe Doctrine, where history dissolves into conspiracy (Dallas in 1963, Iran Contra in 1984), and fashions a moral thriller as hypnotic and provacative as any by Joseph Conrad or Graham Greene.

In that latter year Elena McMahon walks off the presidential campaign she has been covering for a major newspaper to do a favor for her father. Elena's father does deals. And it is while acting as his agent in one such deal—a deal that shortly goes spectacularly wrong—that she finds herself on an island where tourism has been superseded by arms dealing, covert action, and assassination. The Last Thing He Wanted is a tour de force—persuasive in its detail, dazzling in its ambiguities, enchanting in its style.

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From Our Editors

Creating a "menacing world where the reader is held hostage" ("Los Angeles Times"), the legendary author of "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" now trains her eye on the far frontiers of the Monroe Doctrine, where history dissolves into conspiracy--Dallas, 1963; Iran Contra in 1984--and fashions a moral thriller as hypnotic and provocative as...

From the Publisher

In her first novel in twelve years, the legendary author of Play It As It Lays and Slouching Toward Bethlehem trains her eye on the far frontiers of the Monroe Doctrine, where history dissolves into conspiracy (Dallas in 1963, Iran Contra in 1984), and fashions a moral thriller as hypnotic and provacative as any by Joseph Conrad or Gra...

From the Jacket

This intricate, fast-paced story, whose many scenes and details fit together like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, is Didion's incisive and chilling look at a modern world where things are not working as they should and where the oblique and official language is as sinister as the events it is covering up. The narrator introduces Ele...

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:240 pages, 7.99 × 5.19 × 0.55 inPublished:September 2, 1997Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0679752854

ISBN - 13:9780679752851

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Customer Reviews of The Last Thing He Wanted

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from I was wrong about what she said next: A review of Joan Didion's The Last Thing He Wanted This is the most recent novel Joan Didion has written, her fifth. It was published in 1996 and takes place in an imagined but realistic 1984. Readers will notice an immediate similarity between The Last Thing He Wanted and her previous novel Democracy, written over a decade prior. Some of innovative literary techniques used so well in Democracy are also found here. Like her previous novel, Didion announces herself as the author of this account from within the novel. In a sense, she uses herself as a fictional character. Readers of the “new journalism” will note that this technique was used within the realm of non-fiction by Norman Mailer. It is transferred brilliantly. The Last Thing He Wanted contains themes found throughout Didion’s novels: insider / outsider / margins / bias / contradiction / perspective and, most of all, reflections on what we want for ourselves and what we want for others. The narrative is an account written by a fictional Joan Didion about Treat Morrison and Elena McMahon. It begins with Treat’s reflections on seeing Elena for the first time while she was sitting alone in a coffee shop: “This American woman was eating, very slowly and methodically, first a bite of one and then a bite of the other, a chocolate parfait and bacon. The chocolate parfait and bacon had definitely bothered him” (6-7). The narrative unfolds alongside documents collected and reported on by the narrator. She writes: “You could call this a reconstruction. A corrective, if you will, to the Rand study. A revisionist view of a time and a place and an incident about which, ultimately, most people preferred not to know” (13). The novel is indebted in many ways to her journalism, especially Miami and Salvador. There are many delicious observations and comments: “It would seem to her later than nothing about the day had gone remarkably wrong but it would also seem that nothing about the day had gone remarkably right” (20). Passages like this continually reveal how the author sees the world, a meaningless jumble of facts in need of a narrative – a story – to make sense. Taking up this perspective Didion has shown herself to be a master story-teller and despite the fragmented form of this novel (the chapters are often only a couple pages long) it weaves a complicated portrait of unspoken desire, confusion, and indecision – although perhaps it would be best not to put it like that. It is a novel of refusal: “She knew how to cut and run. She had done it often enough. Cut and run, cut her losses, just walked away” (39). Quotable quotes: “We all prefer the magical explanation” (15). “She had been pushing herself too hard, juggling too many balls, so immersed in the story she was blind to the story” (26). “There are people who understand this kind of transaction and there are people who do not. Those who understand it are at heart storytellers, weaves of conspiracy just to make the day come alive, and they see it in a flash, comprehend all its turns, get its possibilities” (55). There is this fascinating insight with regard to cultural politics in the American east and west . . . the discontinuities between California (where Didion was born) and New York: “I had heard before about ‘the Harvard guys,’ also about ‘the guys who know how not to rattle their teacups’ and ‘the guys with the killer serves and not too much else.’ This was a vein in Treat Morison that would surface only when exhaustion or a drink or two had lowered his guard, and remained the only visible suggestion of whatever it had meant to him to come out of the West and confront the established world” (156).
Date published: 2008-07-16

Extra Content

From Our Editors

Creating a "menacing world where the reader is held hostage" ("Los Angeles Times"), the legendary author of "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" now trains her eye on the far frontiers of the Monroe Doctrine, where history dissolves into conspiracy--Dallas, 1963; Iran Contra in 1984--and fashions a moral thriller as hypnotic and provocative as any by Joseph Conrad or Graham Greene

Editorial Reviews

"Gripping...Didion at her finest." —USA Today"Simultaneously lucid and surreal . . . the result is entrancing." —The New Yorker"Remarkable. . . . Didion has created a menacing world where the reader is held hostage." —Los Angeles Times"Dark detail, understatement and intelligence work their astonishing magic." —The New York Times Book Review