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The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion

The Last Thing He Wanted

by Joan Didion

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457534,636 (3.42)8



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One of the best books I've read. Loved it. ( )
  andreago12 | Apr 26, 2014 |
  living2read | Jul 23, 2008 |
The Last Thing He Wanted is a political drama mixed with a romance. Not a great combination. Not some of Didion's best work. ( )
  Djupstrom | Apr 26, 2008 |
I'm not sure I want to work as hard as this book requires I work. Not for pleasure reading, at any rate. And it doesn't work as informing reading either, because what I learned added little to the historic context I got off wiki.

Central history: mining of Nicaragua's export harbors by the US through CIA operatives planted in Costa Rica, Honduras etc. Done illegally under the Reagan administration, Oliver North the key figure, Barry Goldwater/the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence were kept out of the loop. (1979 was the Iran-Contra affair, where the US continued aid to the contras after claiming to cut it off - again, North at healm.)
The mines were meant to help the contras by disrupting trade (damaging and scaring ships, not destroying them) and adding aconomic pressure on the Sandanista government. (US doesn't care for Sandanista ties to Cuba & the Soviet Union.) This took place in 1984. Afterwards, Daniel Ortega elected and his Sandanista govt. continues to rule pretty much thereafter, and once US lifts trade embargo the contras cease fighting.

Rough story - which you can fully patch together only at the conclusion of the book, since it's not revealed chronologically or even logically:
Elena McMahon, daughter of Dick McMahon who is a life-long arms supplier w/o loyalties who nonetheless, it seems, works mostly for US interests. Had some involvement in Kennedy assassination and Cuba.
Elena: reporter for LA Herald. Then marries Wynn Janklow and becomes socialite housewife. Gets cancer. Divorces, puts daughter in boarding school and goes to work for some unnamed person's campaign. Her mom dies and she leaves campaign to care for demented father. Father requests she complete one last mission (the last thing he wanted); she flies arms to Costa Rica but instead of being paid gets stuck there, is moved to a small island, finds out her dad is dead, realizes now her own daughter is in danger, and waits on this unnamed island, becomes manager of small hotel to pass time, meets Treat Morrison, a DIA agent who is sent down to follow up on an FBI probe of Elena launched when she accidentally reveals phony passport given to her in course of shady business.

So that's the external plot. Internal: well, Elena has dreams that narrator says signify death by cancer. But I think the death is really the loss of identity thru marriage? So maybe cancer's the metaphor for that? And her eventual beating of cancer is the triumph of the self, the rejection of the not-her? And this becoming a leaver (leaves husband, considers leaving Catherine, leaves job) is part of the reclamation? Is the cancer the permission to make the changes?

Are we supposed to know whose campaign she's on, does it matter, how would the reader figure it out and what does it mean?

What's with the narrator? Only slowly do you piece together that it was a fellow housewife/mom from Elena's married days, who also ends up being a reporter, who studies the whole incident. The narrator's chilly attitude about Elena underscores the bloodless nature of everyone in the book.

Who the fuck is Max Epperson? Very annoying.

Confrontation at Surfrider between Elena, Bob Weir and Paul - has Paul given Elena up?

This may be a case where literary fiction is as annoying as it's accused of being. The releasing of the story in convoluted swirls: occasionally intriguing and even captivating, more often annoying. Layers - convoluted circles within circles.

I guess in the end I admire the clearly brilliant development of this story but must conclude it was not a success, at least for a genre reader like myself. ( )
1 vote swl | Oct 4, 2007 |
I had to give up on this one out of sheer frustration after hitting Chapter 11 and realising I still had no idea what was going on. I didn't find myself engaging with either the characters, the plot or the writing style. ( )
  Clurb | Sep 30, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679752854, Paperback)

Elena McMahon is a reporter for the Washington Post and the unlikely inheritor of her father's complex and secretive life as an arms dealer for the U.S. Government in Central America. The year is 1984, and as she flies to an unnamed island off the coast of Costa Rica, she is oblivious to the spies, American military personnel, and the consequences of her father's errors that await her. She's also unprepared for the advances of Treat Morrison, an American diplomat whose service under six administrations has made him a "crisis junkie." Treat narrates this story, offering a unique perspective on Elena, a woman who abandons one life for another.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:07 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

This intricate, fast-paced story, whose many scenes and details fit together like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, is Didion's incisive and chilling look at a modern world where things are not working as they should and where the oblique and official language is as sinister as the events it is covering up.The narrator introduces Elena McMahon, estranged from a life of celebrity fundraisers and from her powerful West Coast husband, Wynn Janklow, whom she has left, taking Catherine, her daughter, to become a reporter for The Washington Post. Suddenly walking off the 1984 campaign, she finds herself boarding a plane for Florida to see her father, Dick McMahon. She becomes embroiled in her Dick's business though she had trained herself since childhood not to have any interest in what he was doing. It is from this moment that she is caught up in something much larger than she could have imagined, something that includes Ambassador-at-Large Treat Austin Morrison and Alexander Brokaw, the ambassador to an unnamed Caribbean island. Into this startling vision of conspiracies, arms dealing, and assassinations, Didion makes connections among Dallas, Iran-Contra, and Castro, and points up how spectral companies with high-concept names tended to interlock. As this book builds to its terrifying finish, we see the underpinnings of a dark historical underbelly. This is our system, the one trying to create a context for democracy and getting its] hands a little dirty in the process.… (more)

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