BLUE NIGHTS by Joan Didion

Book Quote:

I know that I can no longer reach her.

I know that, should I try to reach her–should I take her hand as if she were again sitting next to me in the upstairs cabin on the evening Pan Am from Honolulu to LAX, should I lull her to sleep against my shoulder, should I sing her the song about Daddy gone to get the rabbit skin to wrap his baby bunny in–she will fade from my touch.


Book Review:

Review by Doug Bruns  (NOV 10, 2011)

Blue Nights is ostensibly about the loss of a child. In reality, however, it is about the passing of time. Indeed, it is the passing of time that captures all loss, loss of children, of loved ones, and ultimately, of self. It is the classic Heritclitian flow and Ms. Didion has here given herself to it fully, embracing every ripple, bend and eddy. With superhuman strength she resists fighting the current. She does not emote. She does not wax sentimental. Rather she turns her hard-edged and beautiful prose squarely upon her subject matter–as she always has done–and sets to work. Yet even she wonders if the manner in which she practices her art is up for the task. Halfway through the book she wrestles with the question: “What if the absence of style that I welcomed at one point–the directness that I encouraged, even cultivated–what if this absence of style has now taken on a pernicious life of its own?” How can one write about the loss of a child with prose chiseled from tempered steel?

How does one make sense of it, bestow order where there is but chaos, the losses, the aging and the attendant frailty?. How does the writer rise to this? She exhibits no pretension, no artifice. There is that line, repeated throughout her previous memoir, A Year of Magical Thinking: “She’s a pretty cool customer.” Never did anyone seem so cool than the writer does here. She is a reporter, a cool and trained observer, even when she is her own subject matter. Yet she is laid bare. “When I tell you that I am afraid to get up from a folding chair in a rehearsal room…” she writes, noting her infirmities, “is this what I am actually saying? Does it frighten me?”

Yet, she is present, bold and unflinching. She is serious. We can ask for nothing more, and at times wish she would hold back–a trait, I would wager, of which she is not capable. In characteristic Didion fashion she brings her steely eye and razor-precise prose to her subjects: the loss of her daughter Quintana Roo, and, unflinchingly, her advancing inescapable personal extinction. Her narrative is peppered with bits of her childhood, her fading friendships, the loss of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and the adoption (March 1966) of Quintana. All this reflected against the backdrop of growing old. It is all loss.

“When we lose that sense of the possible we lose it fast,” she writes.

Early in the book, reflecting on the loss of her daughter, she wonders, “Had she no idea how much we needed her?” When I first read this–it is a sentence repeated throughout, like a mantra–when I first read this my mind filled in the blanks quickly rushing ahead. My mind read, Had she no idea how much we loved her? I stumbled over the word need and had to reread the sentence. Was love too strong an emotion to bring to the page, I wondered? Or was she saying something else? A few pages later, while remembering the adoption of the infant Quintana, she asks, “…what if I fail to love this baby?” (Her italics.) Only here will love appear as a doubt-filled question.

Late in the book she finds herself in the hospital. She had awakened in the night on the floor of her bedroom, lying in a pool of blood. “It seemed clear that I had fallen, but I had no memory of falling, no memory whatsoever of losing balance, trying to regain it, the usual preludes to a fall. Certainly I had no memory of losing consciousness.” The event, however, is not the point. The point is the question of who to contact in case of emergency. “Whole days now spent on this one question, this question with no possible answer: who do I want notified in case of emergency?” (Her italics.) She goes through the lists of people, possible candidates. But there are problems. They live elsewhere, or are out of the country, or aren’t someone with whom she wants to share such intimacy. Or are gone. Ultimately she concludes, “Only one person needs to know.” And then the bookend to Had she no idea how much we needed her? “She is of course the one person who needs to know.” And she is gone.

It is the intertwined nature of family and friendship, of life itself, on display here. The denouement comes in the fashion in which it all unravels, how fast the end arrives and the struggle of the observer, the chronicler–indeed, the mother–to survive. As she confesses at the book’s end: “The fear is for what is still to be lost.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 21 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf (November 1, 2011)
REVIEWER: Doug Bruns
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Joan Didion
EXTRAS: Powerful Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:



November 10, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: End-of-Life, Non-fiction, y Award Winning Author

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