With a title echoing the unofficial title of an album that the Beatles recorded in 1968, The White Album comprises mainly essays previously published in some form in various magazines, with each essay showing Didion’s insight, precise diction, and ability to create powerful images.
The first part of The White Album is also called “The White Album” and includes only one essay, again called “The White Album” (1968-1978). That long essay is Didion’s fifteen-section, associational consideration of why she could not tell herself the stories she needed to survive, why she could not find a “narrative” to connect the images confronting her when she lived in Hollywood and pondered such events as the Manson gang’s murders, a recording session by the Doors, visits to Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, and a student strike at San Francisco State.
The second part, “California Republic,” consists of seven shorter essays. The first of them, “James Pike, American” (1976), presents the late Episcopal bishop of California as a man of “mindless fervor” whose idea of reinventing the world was typical of the 1960’s in the United States. “Holy Water” (1977), the second of the essays, is Didion’s account of her fascination with the mass movement of water, especially in California. Among the other essays in this part, particularly notable is “Many Mansions” (1977), contrasting the new, sprawling, unoccupied...
(The entire section is 475 words.)