Books: Melancholia, U.S.A.

SLOUCHING TOWARDS BETHLEHEM by Joan Di'dion. 238 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $4.95.

Most good journalists sooner or later find a beat that pleases them above all others. Joan Didion's territory is a bleak and joyless neverland located somewhere between Despond and Nostalgia. Under her melancholy eye, even the most familiar people and places take on an air of tragedy. Things seem to be falling apart, and the atmosphere is mournfully laden with unrealized dreams and memories of lost innocence.

Journalist Didion, 33, a former Vogue editor and now a Saturday Evening Post columnist,...

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