THE LAST LOVE SONG: A Biography of Joan Didion

St. Martin’s Press, August 2015:  A New York Times and Los Angeles Times Best Seller.  One of the “Best Books of 2015″:  Kirkus, San Francisco Chronicle.  The #1 Northwest Book of the Year, 2015”:  Portland Oregonian.

“It is rare to find a biographer so temperamentally, intellectually, and even stylistically matched with his subject as Tracy Daugherty, author of well-received biographies of Donald Barthelme and Joseph Heller, is matched with Joan Didion; but it is perhaps less of a surprise if we consider that Daugherty is himself a writer whose work shares with Didion’s classic essays . . . a brooding sense of the valedictory and the elegiac . . . The Last Love Song is not a conventional biography so much as a life of the artist rendered in biographical mode . . . Many passages in [it] read with the fluency of fiction, and the particular intimacy of Didion’s fiction . . . We feel that we are reading about Didion in precisely Didion’s terms . . . It is warmly generous, laced with the ironic humor Didion and Dunne famously cultivated.”–Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books, 10/8/15.

“Mr. Daugherty . . . does an agile job here of examining how his subject’s life illuminated the eras she traversed (and vice versa) . . . this thoughtful and ambitious biography remains focused on Didion’s writing, using her life to shed light on her highly autobiographical work . . . [the] biography evinces a deep appreciation of her skills and idiosyncrasies, and an understanding of how writers like Conrad [and] Hemingway . . . helped her forge her singular style . . . Mr. Daugherty expertly dissects Ms. Didion’s preoccupation with narratives.”–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, 8/18/15.

“Tracy Daugherty delves into the wellspring of Didion’s character with a responsible and generous willingness to examine her life, trace her intellectual and creative development, and transmute what he finds into larger insight not only on what made Didion a great writer but on what it means to be one, both for the writer and for the society whose collective memory she or he reflects, preserves, and shapes . . . [in passages] marked by the sort of elegant rhetorical acrobatics reminding the reader of the writer’s presence, Daugherty dissects [Didion’s] singular technique[s] . . . Daugherty accomplishes precisely what he sets out to do.”–Maria Popova, “BrainPickings,” 12/12/15.

“Daugherty’s . . . biography gives us a full, vibrant picture of Didion . . . [his] primary interest here is in Didion’s work–in the writing itself . . . Daugherty’s ability to parse [her] evolution is itself noteworthy:  he treats [her] contradictions less as evolutions towards the ‘correct’ or ‘final’ worldview, than as moments in a life lived with contradictions . . . [T]he brilliant trick that Daugherty manages to pull off in ‘The Last Love Song’ [is that by] weaving Didion’s life and her work into a coherent, unified narrative, he resuscitates her middle period–precisely the work that most explicitly resists the coherent and the unified . . . Daugherty’s book ultimately succeeds because of his ability to see Didion not as an immutable icon of cool, but as someone whose ideas and whose writing shifted constantly, radically.”–Colin Dickey, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 8/23/15.

“Didion . . . would [be], at least for many biographers . . . too terrifying to touch.  Fortunately, Daugherty, a fiction writer and essayist, knows exactly how much pressure to apply.  [An] excellent and exhaustive book . . . [an] intrepid and meticulous biographer . . . ” Meghan Daum, The Atlantic, 8/10/15.

“Daugherty has defied W. H. Auden’s assertion that ‘biographies of writers are always superfluous and usually in bad taste’ . . . he has constructed a tome to a literary icon . . . a studied and studious analysis of Didion’s comprehensive life and literary history . . . Few are as well-suited to this task as Daugherty, a much-acclaimed and roundly lauded literary biographer.”–The Oregonian, 8/30/15.

The Last Love Song “[is] a large continent . . . The book passes through its own weather systems, from a crisp intro, depicting the youth of its subject, Joan Didion, in Sacramento, California, during the 1930s and 40s, through her fecund early working years in Manhattan and on into the hot, gritty, apocalyptic dog days of 1960s Los Angeles, whose bard Didion became.  Then comes the greying climate of late middle age . . . The Last Love Song [also] features a steady stream of historical signposts . . . explained in considerable depth.”–Laura Miller, The Guardian, 8/15/15.

“Few writers have been so intent [as Didion] on impressing upon us the illusions of self-deception, the delusions of nostalgia and memory.  What more could there be to say?  And so it’s a happy surprise that the first biography of Didion to appear . . . is so compelling.  Daugherty . . . focus[es] . . . on the extraordinarily rich reverberations between his subject’s life, work, and the shifting social and political sands of her time . . . [he] understands the paradoxes at the heart of Didion’s allure . . . forthright and sensitive reporting . . . What Daugherty does exceptionally well is conjure a psychic atmosphere, grounding our understanding of Didion. “–Megan O’ Grady,, 8/20/15.

” . . . a magisterial, extraordinarily sympathetic new biography . . . Daugherty practically establishes a psychic connection with Didion . . . Every aspect of Didion’s life and work is pondered thoughtfully . . . the book is fleet . . . and . . . persuasive . . . “–Peter Tonguette, The Christian Science Monitor, 8/25/15.

“Yesterday, I finished The Last Love Song . . . The biography was a crash course in what had made me fall in love with Joan Didion’s style in the first place . . .  [Daugherty] wrote a splendid book without her help and it’s my theory he wouldn’t have learned that much about her if she had granted him full access . . . “–Pat Conroy,, 10/22/15.

” . . . [an] encyclopedic biography . . . an intense examination of Didion’s carefully-controlled work . . . Daugherty successfully illustrates the intricate ways Didion has both responded to and also helped create the culture about which she writes . . . [he] has managed to portray a magnificent life by scouring her work, interviewing distant friends and old colleagues . . . But the genius of the biography comes from Daugherty’s ability to uncover in these sources a narrative that is compulsively readable.”–Jill Dehnert, The Brooklyn Rail, 9/8/15.

“Recommended”–Bret Easton Ellis,, 10/1/15.

“Tracy Daugherty gives us a meticulously researched biography of Didion that functions as both an exploration of late 20th century American cultural values, as well as an incredible insight into the life of an extremely talented woman of letters.”–J. P. O’Malley,, 9/7/15.

“Tracy Daugherty has the confidence to write an unauthorized book on a living person that trawls not just for gossip (though there’s plenty on Didion’s mostly charmed life and its late unraveling) but for connection and, ultimately, meaning.”–New York Magazine, “Twenty-five Things to Hear, Watch, and Read,” 9/7/15.

“Daugherty has previously written indispensable biographies of Donald Barthelme and Joseph Heller . . . Of all living writers–Didion will be 81 in December–Joan Didion has been in the uppermost tier of those crying out for a truly great literary biography . . . We needed this book–and a literary biographer as good as Tracy Daugherty–to understand . . . the novelist who first traduced America in 1970 with her second novel ‘Play It As It Lays,'”–Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News, 9/8/15.

“In his elucidation of Didion’s development, Daugherty offers a detailed coloring-in of the self-portrait Joan Didion has drawn in her autobiographical writing.  It confirms the achievements of her career and celebrates the experience of reading her exacting prose.  ‘The Last Love Song’ is a smart and gratifying book that gives us Didion’s world and brings us closer to her way of seeing it.”–The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 8/23/15.

” . . . at its core [The Last Love Song] provides an indispensable guide to understanding not just the value of Didion’s contribution to American literature, but how she pulled it off.  Among the pleasures of Daugherty’s portrait is the light it sheds on Didion’s literary education . . . one comes away from The Last Love Song with a renewed sense of how rare true talent is, what a gift it is–for the bearer, and for her audience.”–The Millions, 8/24/15.

“Succeeds in adding a remarkable texture and density to Didion’s own, often airless, self-reflections.  Daugherty . . . understands the literary and cultural milieu in which Didion’s fractured first-person prose found an audience.”–Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Journal, 8/30/15.

“Tracy Daugherty captures Didion’s anxious journey . . . a compelling story.”–The Washington Post, 8/30/15.

” . . . a combination of painstakingly detailed research . . . and astute literary criticism . . . [Daugherty] has a firm, clear grasp on [Didion’s] writing–how it evolved, how it fits into (and helped shape) the landscape of American literature, how her language illuminates her worldview . . . the book conjures as vivid a picture of this living legend as we are likely to get.”–Entertainment Weekly, 8/14/15.

“Daugherty is an excellent researcher . . . [he] has to be credited with an honest attempt to turn everything about Didion–her life, her work, the events that influenced everything around her–into a coherent narrative . . . an intelligent look at Didion’s work.”–National Public Radio, 8/25/15.

“Daugherty delivers rigorous research . . . to determine whether ‘the life reveal[s] the art, or the art the life’ . . . [he] gives us . . . excellent literary criticism and painstaking detail about her personal life . . . [he] grounds our understanding of the writer in her background.”–The Daily Beast, 8/23/15.

“Both the suffering, imperfect human being and the detached, cerebral author come through in The Last Love Song, a clear-eyed, respectful biography.”–Columbus Dispatch, 8/30/15.

” . . . [a] hefty but engaging biography . . . Daugherty defends Didion as a humanist covering the gamut:  politics, art, history, war, you name it.  The portrait is of a writer who, as one critic said, ‘chooses to speak in her own person’ . . . ‘[f]acing it–always facing it–that’s the way to get through.'”–San Francisco Chronicle, 8/19/15.

” . . . intelligent and elegant . . . “–Louis Menand, The New Yorker, 8/24/15.

“A comprehensive, absorbing look at the life of iconic author Joan Didion . . . by a top-notch biographer.”–Good Housekeeping, 9/15.

“If you want a taste for what it was like to be a high-flying journalist at the apex of the New Journalism and a lauded screenwriter during a Hollywood golden age, or if you just want to know the gossip behind all the troubled marriage innuendoes haunting The White Album, then this is your book.”–Vulture, 8/24/15.

“[Daugherty] nails the ways in which history and culture shaped a writer who returned the favor.”–Boris Kachka, Vulture, “Books You Need to Read,” 8/5/15.

“[E]xcellent . . . Daugherty’s resume as a writer–he is an award-winning novelist and a biographer of Joseph Heller–makes him an ideal biographer of Joan Didion.  He ‘gets’ Didion–the melancholy, the hypochondria, the depressions accompanied by daytime drinking.”–National Review, 8/5/15.

“This biography of Joan Didion by critically acclaimed biographer and novelist Tracy Daugherty will doubtless be a big buzz book this season.”–Biographile, “Required Reading,” 8/3/15.

The Last Love Song . . . compile[s] reams of facts . . . Daugherty’s analyses of the ouvre are apt.  Didion lovers, of whom there are many, will find it enjoyable . . . “–Seattle Times, 8/23/15.

“Reads like a work of fiction.  And Daugherty, whose excellent Hiding Man surveys the life and works of semi-recluse Donald Barthelme, is well-positioned to trace the public vs. private paradoxes of Didion’s life without killing the mystery.”–Flavorwire, “Must Read Books,” 8/4/15.

” . . . a thoughtful, highly readable account.”–Christian Science Monitor, “10 Best Books of August,” 8/4/15.

“The nearest thing to a biopic in book form, [The Last Love Song] opens with a Romantic vision of the West . . . [and] gets interesting when it turns to Didion’s early career.”–The New Republic, 7/21/15.

“Daugherty with his novelistic narrative power and historian’s grasp of details has the ability to give a compelling fresh look at Didion . . . Daugherty’s books are part of a new golden age of literary biography.”–Southern Bookman, 8/3/15.

“In this engrossing biography of exceptional vibrancy, velocity, and perception, Daugherty astutely elucidates Didion’s ever-evolving artistic explorations and political critiques as she interrogates the meaning and ‘intelligibility’ of literature and life.  He also portrays this intensely candid, searching writer as endlessly hardworking, brilliantly innovative, and as sensitive as a tuning fork or divining rod, trembling with the intensity of it all, perfect in pitch, stunning in revelation.”–Donna Seaman, Booklist, STARRED REVIEW, 6/1/15.

” . . . [a] humdinger of a biography of Joan Didion . . . “–Chicago Tribune, 6/4/15.

“Tracy Daugherty biography of Joan Didion irresistibly readable.”–Joyce Carol Oates on Twitter, 5/26/15.

“Tracy Daugherty puts writer Joan Didion under the microscope.”–Time, “Summer’s Top Titles,” 7/6/15.

” . . . the first major biography of Joan Didion . . . is a very hefty book about her . . . there is sure to be further interest in her story:  as the modern novelist who best made ennui sexy; as the tough social critic and political essayist whose pieces take no prisoners; as the wife and parent who has endured such terrible losses; and as the shrewd Hollywood power player, no more noble than any of that breed.  This book has room for all that . . . “–Janet Maslin, “Cool Books for Hot Days,” The New York Times, 5/22/15.

“It might be easier to capture a unicorn than to pin down the almost-mythological Joan Didion, whose intricate prose and enigmatic persona have long bewitched her admirers.  Daugherty, brave soul, has written a big, unauthorized biography that explores the life, work and influence of this brilliant writer and social critic whose character is as contradictory as America itself.”–Cathleen Medwick, “The Hot Five:  Books to Make the Season Sizzle,” More, Jul/Aug 2015.

The Last Love Song is a great example of non-fiction that reads like fiction.  Daugherty deliberately respects the privacy of the reclusive journalist Joan Didion, instead journeying back in time to follow Didion’s growth into adult life.  Touching interviews provided by those who know Didion well help make this biography into a loving tribute to a great literary figure.”–Emma Oulton, Bustle, “11 of Summer 2015’s Best Non-Fiction Books,” 6/4/15.

“Even if you’ve read ALL of Didion’s work, you will find yourself impossibly immersed in this intense look into Didion’s life as a writer and brilliant human.”–

“From the 1960s through the 1980s, Joan Didion, now 80, was the best recorder of American traumas, arguably better than Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe, or any other New Journalist.  Daugherty . . . may be the ideal writer to chronicle her life and achievement . . . Didion[‘s] . . . critical vision is best captured obliquely, in fractured images that convey a feeling of unease without proof of its cause:  the real narrative of the times is hidden behind appearances . . .  A strong biography.  Who won’t want to read this ‘hot’ book?”–Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW, 5/1/15.

“An eloquent work on the life of Joan Didion, fashioning her story as no less than the rupture of the American narrative.  Didion’s works of fiction, nonfiction, and journalism relentlessly probed the times in which they emerged.  In this wonderfully engaging biography, Daugherty . . . wisely sticks to Didion’s near obsession with making sense of an increasingly incoherent narrative during the tumultuous decades of the waning 20th century . . .  A dogged biographer elicits from Didion’s life much more than tidy observations of ‘morality and culture.'”–Kirkus, STARRED REVIEW, 5/6/15.

“Having proven his chops as a biographer, Daugherty’s new book tackles the behemoth task of writing a biography of Joan Didion, one of the most well loved essayists and writers of our time . . . Daugherty pays tribute to a career and life well spent.”–Entertainment Monthly, 6/12/15.

“Daugherty is known for delivering notable biographies of literary lions, including Joseph Heller.  Here he takes on the queen of the lionesses.”–Allen Salkin, The New York Daily News, 5/3/15.

“The first serious biography . . . of the supremely talented and critically acclaimed writer Joan Didion covers everything from her sunbaked Sacramento youth to her days with husband and frequent co-writer John Gregory Dunne.”–Entertainment Weekly, 5/15/15.

“Daugherty . . . offers a monumental, novelistic examination of Joan Didion’s life and career.  The book’s impressively detailed attention to place, beginning with Didion’s California origins, grounds Didion’s development as both a fiction writer and journalist who served as ‘our keenest observer of the chaos’ of the 1960s and beyond . . . settl[ing] into confident, engrossing prose when focusing on Didion’s literary achievements . . . Daugherty crafts a complex, intricately shaded portrait of a woman also known for her inner toughness and intellectual rigor.  This landmark work renders a nuanced analysis of a literary life, lauds Didion’s indelible contributions to American literature and journalism (especially New Journalism) and documents a ‘style [that] has become the music of our time.'”–Publisher’s Weekly, 4/6/15.

“The talented Daugherty sympathetically recounts Didion’s rise to preeminence as a writer, her marriage to John Gregory Dunne, and the incredible loss she suffered when her husband and their only child died within the same year.”–James McGrath Morris, The Washington Independent Review of Books, 2/20/15.