From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with bits of her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion examines her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old.
Blue Nights opens on July 26, 2010, as Didion thinks back to Quintana’s wedding in New York seven years before. Today would be her wedding anniversary. This fact triggers vivid snapshots of Quintana’s childhood—in Malibu, in Brentwood, at school in Holmby Hills. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she failed either because cues were not taken or perhaps displaced. “How could I have missed what was clearly there to be seen?” Finally, perhaps we all remain unknown to each other. Seamlessly woven in are incidents Didion sees as underscoring her own age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept.
Blue Nights—the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, “the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning”—like The Year of Magical Thinking before it, is an iconic book of incisive and electric honesty, haunting and profoundly moving.
This book felt a lot like The Year of Magical Thinking to me, except this time Didion was working through the death of her daughter and her own aging instead of the death of her husband. The writing worked outward in circles. She kept coming back to some of the same facts or phrases, but provided a richer background and landscape for those things. The flowers and plants that grew at one of their homes, that her daughter then used for her wedding, and how she looked on that day. How she questioned how she really did as a parent, like we all do. Are we doing enough? What are we missing when we are in the middle of it? Did we make the right decision.
The book really flowed from chapter to chapter, even though it was in no way taking place chronologically, sometimes Quinitana was a little girl, or a baby, or sick in the ICU as an adult. They lived in different places full of different memories, but they all revolve around her little girl and her understanding of her role as a parent.
Central to it all are fears about death and aging and becoming frail. Having lost her mother, husband and daughter within ten years of each other took her family and left her wondering who she should list as an emergency contact at the hospital. The people she would normally use are gone.
No one is free of worries or fears. She talks about how she can;t open a closet or a drawer without coming across mementos for memories she no longer wants to have. How she wishes she had lived that moment more fully instead of worrying about saving something that is now trivial. Each time I ended a chapter I kept right on going. I read the whole book in one day in on and off spurts. The pacing was great. This is the second e-book I've borrowed from our library and I am loving this feature!
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/1/2011