The narrator of Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer, Grace Strasser-Mendana, confesses, albeit late in the novel (page 214): “Maybe there is no motive role in this narrative.” Maybe not. Maybe that is the point. Shifty narrative, dialectic of thought, a protagonist who is both inefficacious and dangerous (Charlotte): these are elements that comprise the cause of this novel. Or the lack thereof, as Grace suggests.
But again, perhaps that is the point.
That there is no reason for it.
That the effect does not reveal the cause.
It is part of the polemic.
Charlotte listens to taped broadcasts of the CHP because “she’s lonely.” She borrows a CIA book from Ardis Bradley that welcomes suggestions for “factual or interpretive or other changes” at a POB in Washington. She suggests. She is lonely. After all.
(This was, as a sidenote, my favorite moment in the novel.
One of them.)
It is not a cause. It is one of those non-perceptible “wheeling of the stars” (155) for which Boca Grande is known. It is the exchange of information. It is the way things work. But Charlotte does not know this. She does not hear the harmonic tremor.
Grace hears it.
As a matter of fact it is a melody played in The Crying of Lot 49. The harmonic tremor. The importance of communication. The Tristero. The guerilleros. W.A.S.T.E. The reader struggles to eke out the meaning because Pynchon (because Didion) is not clear.
Because Didion (because Pynchon) know the meaning is not clear.
Because the meaning is less.
And Charlotte is oblivious to the “disturbance she could cause in the neutron field of a room, or a lawn” (207). Because she is taboo. Like Grace. The kind of woman who would kill a chicken with her bare hands (212). But maybe communication is not possible. I do not know it to be empirically.
The similitude begins there because in Didion’s political allegory, the reader knows less as the plot unfolds. Because it gets more complicated. The plot. Like in Pynchon’s. But Pynchon shows a safe method of communication. The alternative to a POB. Didion sees the danger.
Even in Boca Grande.
Because Boca Grande is.
But Marin was lost to history and doesn’t believe in the past. That is why Charlotte looks for her in Boca Grande. That is why the airport is real to Charlotte. That is why Charlotte is dangerous.
Charlotte acquires properties of taboo.
People she knows.
Since you know the story.
These ideas come to mind.
These are things we are protected from. Diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, tuberculosis, poliomyelitis, dental decay, cholera. These are things Marin is protected against. And Charlotte.
Here’s your hat.
What’s your hurry?