Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Book Review: "Blue Nights" by Joan Didion

In her magnificent 2005 memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion recounted the double blow of losing her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, and then 20 months later, losing their adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, to an unexplained illness. The pain, anger, and sadness Didion felt radiated through every page of that book.

Blue Nights, Didion's follow-up, touches on many of the same themes of anger and loss, while focusing more on Quintana's life and untimely death. The book examines Quintana's adoption, her trying to act like an adult at far too early an age, and the fragility of both her mental and physical state, and Didion tries to determine whether the way she and Dunne raised Quintana had a negative impact on her short life. Beyond simply a memoir of loss, this book also touches on Didion's loneliness as well as her own fears of aging, frailty, and death, as she approaches her 80th birthday.

Didion is a magnificent writer and her use of language is truly poetic. I didn't feel this book packed as much of an emotional wallop as The Year of Magical Thinking did, perhaps because it dealt with her own struggles as well as Quintana's. It is tremendously sad that all of the losses she has experienced have led to such a magnificent exploration of her psyche. Didion's introspection didn't connect with me as much as her reflections and reminiscences, but her story did evoke strong feelings. And while I don't normally mind when books don't follow a coherent time thread, I found it a little confusing here, and had to backtrack a few times to see if I missed something. In the end, you certainly empathize, if not truly understand, the pain, fear, and regret that Didion feels.

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