By Joan Didion
(Knopf, 208 pages, $25)
» This is what they mean by blood on the page. Didion turns herself inside out: mumbling, remembering, struggling as she traces the too-short life of her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo: in her long white christening dress, at her wedding, on her deathbed in 2005 at 39. This is what words are for, and they meet the test. Didion questions her own parenting and probes her fears and her frailty. No answers come, but even as the author feels trapped in blue light—in l’heure bleue—she offers a gentle warning. “How inadequately,” she writes, “I appreciated the moment when it was here.”
Unreal Estate: Money, Ambition, and the Lust for Land in Los Angeles
By Michael Gross
(Broadway Books, 511 pages, $28)
» Seven McMansions in Beverly Hills, Bel-Air, Holmby Hills, and Beverly Park are the main characters, though they’re nearly upstaged by the parade of murderers, lawyers, actors, pornographers, tycoons, and addicts who owned them. Designed in varying states of “faux-historical pastiche,” these houses are the corrupt core of life in the “mecca of self-invention.” Fantasy and ambition, cheating and careless waste created them. Gross’s research is meticulous. Hard to read. Harder to put down.