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, she dons the role of supportive politician’s wife, adopting, too, the pressures and responsibilities of public life. As a result, Inez later admits to retaining little memory of her own history, expressing now that she is losing track, yet she had remained a loyal supporter of her husband’s career. She and Jack continued to meet, here and there, on occasion.
Inez and Harry have two children, twins Adlai and Jessie. Adlai is an arrogant young man responsible for crashing two automobiles, in one case seriously injuring his female passenger yet exhibiting little remorse. Daughter Jessie is a heroin addict who had attempted suicide and was later admitted to a rehabilitation program in Seattle, Washington.
In the spring of 1975, Inez learns of the shooting death of Hawaiian representative Wendell Omura and the mortal wounding of her sister, Janet. Her father, Paul Christian, later confesses to the crime: revenge for an alleged financial betrayal that is never fully disclosed. Harry’s campaign strategist, Billy Dillon, works quickly to soften the potential media reaction. As a result, Paul is found unfit to stand trial and is sentenced to a mental facility instead. Inez, back on the island to make arrangements for Janet’s funeral, finds Jack waiting for her.
Before the funeral, Inez hears word that her daughter, Jessie, has left Seattle and has boarded a plane for Saigon in pursuit of work. Inez leaves her husband, while she and Jack go to search for her daughter. Jack uses his contacts for information regarding the girl’s whereabouts, and Inez waits in a hotel in Hong Kong. Jack soon finds Jessie working as a waitress at an American Legion Club in Saigon and arranges for her return to the United States.
Months later, after meeting Inez, Didion learns of Jack’s death; he had died of a heart attack in...
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a swimming pool in Jakarta. Inez sees to his quick and secret burial in Honolulu, after which she leaves for Kuala Lumpur, where she now resides helping refugees. Didion relates that Harry’s political campaign has since faded; Dillon has found a new representative to groom. Harry now lives in Brussels, Belgium, and works as an envoy to the European Common Market. Adlai clerks for a federal judge in San Francisco, and Jessie is doing well in Mexico City, where she is writing a novel. Didion admits that she believes Inez will stay on in Kuala Lumpur, until the last refugee is dispatched.