‘As the granddaughter of a geologist I learned early to anticipate the absolute mutability of hills and waterfalls and even islands. When a hill slumps into the ocean I see order in it. When a 5.2 on the Richter scale wrenches the writing table in my own room in my own house in my own particular Welbeck Street I keep on typing. A hill is a transitional accommodation to stress, and ego may be a similar accommodation. A waterfall is a self-correcting maladjustment of stream to structure, and so, for all I know, is technique. The very island to which Inez Vector returned in the spring of 1975 — Oahu, an emergent post-erosional land mass along the Hawaiian Ridge — is a temporary feature, and every rainfall or tremor along the Pacific plates alters its shape and shortens its tenure as Crossroads of the Pacific. In this light it is difficult to maintain definite convictions about what happened down there in the spring of 1975, or before.’ ~ DEMOCRACY
NB: Didion, in her rather unorthodox but signature style, establishes her novel’s setting and technique early on by talking about herself and how she has written this particular story. This is a novel, not a memoir, and yet, like in much of Didion’s work, she inserts herself in the narrative, can be heard over and above it, and it somehow works, in spite of all the rules she breaks.
Didion sets off by seeding a few ideas, tracing out the way in which she’s going to present her novel’s characters, their scenes and locations. The aim, at first, is to reveal the method to the madness, make sure nothing goes unnoticed. She highlights the manner in which the conscious choice of setting informs the story itself — how it establishes a ‘rhetorical base’ for the scenes to follow.
And the deed is done, the seed planted. One look at the title, then at the Hawaii segment, and the reader grasps what may have otherwise gone unnoticed — how informed the premise of this novel is, how well crafted its rhetorical base. The pieces fit, the symbols overlaid and engaged: Democracy, Hawaii, post-erosional masses and structures, geology, quakes, stress, wrenched tables, unbroken typing, transitional accommodations … all the ingredients necessary to present the volatile nature of the concept of Democracy; something more than just people debating in chambers and counting votes; a meditation on what it means to be a dynamic setting in a violent world; how the process can never be taken for granted — how it is forever crafted and shaped and responded to by the very forces it crafts, shapes and responds to in turn.
From the bays of Pearl Coast,
Dive in crystal waters, find a shiny pearl.