by Joan Didion
Simon & Schuster; 234 pages; $13.95
Joan Didion's fourth novel carries a few unnecessary burdens. There is the silly pink book jacket, the pompous flap copy ("a precise and pitiless exploration of lives lived in the harsh glare of public scrutiny") and, worst of all, the title, which is as ostentatious as that of the author's last novel, A Book of Common Prayer. Nor is the reader reassured when this most confident of stylists lodges herself as an extraneous character in the book, discussing narrative ploys that she has considered and rejected and alerting the reader to real...