Christen Aragoni

Christen Aragoni is a former Prospect senior editor. Her writing has also appeared in Bethesda Magazine, The Current Newspapers, The Ithaca Times, and other publications. She is at work on a novel.

Recent Articles

Southern Discomfort

Joan Didion’s notebooks on her 1970 trip through the South offer a ghostly assessment of our current times.

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
The images are of water, the murky kind, the kind with snakes and water moccasins and alligators and mud, the kind in which the distinction between swamp and stagnant river is difficult to discern. Water is a familiar Joan Didion obsession, but as she journeys through the Gulf South in the summer of 1970, she begins to sense that, cut off from the cultural centers of the East and West coasts, steeped in a section of America suffocating in its past, she is “underwater in some real sense.” In Didion’s account of this road trip, the light, which on the highway to Biloxi, Mississippi, is “entirely absorbed by what it strikes,” is also an element of this haunting nightmare-scape, one with crushed oyster shells crunching underfoot at a gas station, and whose residents have a “vertiginous preoccupation with race, class, heritage, style, and the absence of style.” As she and her husband set off from New Orleans, Didion recounts her paranoia of snakes...

The Part of Silence That Can Be Spoken

Jeanette Winterson’s fairy-tale search for a mother

For some writers, mothers are everywhere. They slip off windy cliffs and fall to their death; they follow a star to an orphanage and choose a child in a crib. They are the Dog Woman, fleshy and unwashed and unafraid to kill. They rescue the baby who, like some kind of Moses, is abandoned in the Thames, and they bring him up as their own. These particular mothers belong to British writer Jeanette Winterson’s fiction, which often employs fairy tales and fantastical stories to explore familial relationships and thwart gender expectations. The mothers in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal ? are different, though: They’re real. Winterson’s memoir attempts to uncloak her two mothers, birth and adoptive. Framed by the poverty and history of industrial England, the narrative is fragmented and at times clumsy, jumping between concrete scenes and philosophical ruminations. Nonetheless, it is a book about self-discovery through emotional and mental breakdown. The woman who...

Who Has the Castle Now?

A new biography gives Kurt Vonnegut his due.

On Sunday December 7, 1941, as reports of the bombing of Pearl Harbor poured in, the night editor of The Cornell Daily Sun rushed to lay out the pages for a special edition. A chemistry student who was flunking his classes, he spent more time penning columns and pulling campus pranks than studying. His name was Kurt Vonnegut Jr. By Charles J. Shields Henry Holt: 544 pp., $30 The Pearl Harbor issue and the night editor who helped put it together are legends at the Sun . Many since, myself included, have flipped through those old issues and read the now-world-renowned author’s columns. One recurring item in the paper, The Berry Patch, featured a witticism framed by a design of berry-heavy vines. As an editor of the Sun , I wrote a number of my own Berry Patches, sometimes quoting lines from Walt Whitman or publishing a newsroom quip. Other days, I reprinted one of Vonnegut’s. The Sun was a link to the past, a record of what had transpired years before we ever took charge. It...

The Family Album

A journal of grief and aging, Blue Nights is missing Joan Didion's razor-sharp prose.

What matters are the details. The 60 baby dresses on miniature wooden hangers, the loose pearls in a satin-lined jeweler's box, the bright red soles of the wedding shoes, the white stephanotis in the bride's braided hair. These specifics do not add up to a story; they are a compilation of the past, a messy collage of what used to be. Some are memories to be avoided, "reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted. " Author Joan Didion's latest memoir, Blue Nights , is more journal than narrative, a meditation on grief and aging that jumps in time and place and sucks its readers into its fears and anxieties. Blue Nights comes as the companion to the 2005 National Book Award winner A Year of Magical Thinking , another autobiography, in which Didion grapples with the death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, and with the long illness of their daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne Michael. In August 2005, Quintana, who was adopted at birth, died at the age of 39,...