The Last Thing He Wanted

by Joan Didion

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 333

The novel The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion is an interesting tale of a woman, Elena McMahon, who leaves her prominent job as a traveling press journalist on the 1984 US presidential campaign to care for her aging father in the wake of her mother's death. She eventually becomes entangled in her father's business, which is dealing arms for the United States government throughout Central America.

The novel is a very interesting one, as it is intended to be fast-paced and very sparse. There is little exposition, as it is told in first-person limited view, from Elena's perspective. This is, in fact, is explicitly called out early in the novel, which is an interesting way of breaking the fourth wall. The choppy, quick style of writing develops a sense urgency and makes the reader feel like they are jogging down a hallway trying to keep up with someone telling the story, reminiscent of an interviewer trying to get a scoop on the move, much like Elena would have done on the presidential campaign trail.

The exposition is punctuated frequently by bursts of internal monologue, showing Elena's stark sense of clarity about the individuals and actions in the novel, particularly in regard to her father, who she identifies as slobbish and frustrating, among many other things. The insights into her psyche draw the reader in and force them to watch the action through the protagonist's eyes.

More of the story is told through thoughts and feelings than actual description. Elena expresses her frustration and fatigue when told she needs to go back out on assignment but doesn't describe what she's doing or where she's even going in detail. She describes how her father's house makes her feel, how it reminds her of every other place he lives, but doesn't go into detail about what it looks like. In this way, she expresses her thoughts and feelings more so than the actual descriptions and exposition, which lend another form of closeness to the reader.

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