(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Inez Victor and Jack Lovett sit talking in a bar outside Honolulu, Hawaii, in the spring of 1975; on the television they watch the evacuations of South Vietnam. Lovett recalls certain memories: the pink sky at dawn and the smell of the air after the rain during the Pacific nuclear tests of 1952-1953, and an image of Inez, a seventeen-year-old girl, flowers pinned in her hair, and their encounter in Jakarta, Indonesia, during Harry Victor’s political campaign in 1969.

Joan Didion, an author, admits to have been thinking of Inez and Jack, and of the events that led up to and transpired during 1975. She confesses that the story of Inez and Jack was not the tale she had intended to tell, for her initial interest was in Inez’s family history: its rise to fortune as one of the most prominent families in Hawaii, in certain events that led to the family’s failure and collapse, and in the events surrounding Carol Christian’s desertion of the island and her teenage daughters, Inez and Janet. Didion chooses instead to center on one image, that of Jack waiting for Inez. In a nonlinear narrative, Didion arranges moments from Inez’s history, including how Inez finally came to Kuala Lumpur, how she first met Jack at the age of seventeen and began their enduring yet intermittent love affair, how they came to meet in Jakarta in 1969, and finally, how tragic occurrences brought them back to each other in 1975.

Didion relates certain details about Inez’s life. In 1955, a few years after Jack and Inez’s first meeting, Inez marries Harry Victor, who hopes to become an elected politician. At the time of her marriage, Inez is two months pregnant; she miscarries, however. With Harry’s career as a U.S. representative underway,...

(The entire section is 711 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

While Democracy was still a work in progress, Didion referred to it as “Angel Visits,” a Victorian term meaning brief encounters. Closely attached to her own ancestry and her immediate family, she might have been expected to offer the Christian family as a shining example for others; instead, the opposite is true. Paul Christian, the father, represents the overbearing baronial class that ruled his native Hawaii’s agribusinesses. Worse, he has the same imperious relationship with his own wife and daughters. Although he is free to wander across the world, the other Christians are expected to remain in place, anticipating his unregulated return.

Paul’s wife, Carol, who expected a fuller life and greater stability through marriage, never is allowed any degree of self-worth. Finally, after their daughter Janet’s wedding, Carol disappears on a cruise, never to return. Janet’s husband, Dick Ziegler, invests the modest fortune which he made in Hong Kong housing in Oahu’s windward real estate. Janet, however, conspires with her uncle, Dwight Christian, to circumvent Dick’s plans. She is shot to death at her home, along with Congressman Wendell Omura, by her father late in March, 1975.

By that time, her sister Inez, the novel’s central character, is forty years old, apparently well-married but still exceedingly unhappy and unfulfilled. Her husband, Harry Victor, has a political career that seems to be endlessly rising. From a liberal lawyer once assigned to the Justice...

(The entire section is 619 words.)