Blue Nights by Joan Didion
Release date: 2012 / 208 pages
Synopsis (from Amazon.com): Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old. As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions that all parents face, and contemplates her 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 profound.
Review: Blue Nights is what I most revere about the alchemy of the interaction between writing and reading, as well as what I most resist. Reading Blue Nights was like the proverbial sore tooth and probing tongue. Anyone who has experienced searing grief — not the expected, mature, “it was time” grief, but unexpected, unimaginable, unendurable tragic grief — will live Didion’s words as his or her own.
Yet Didion’s writing is breath-taking at times:
In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue… You noticce it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming — in fact not at all a warming — yet suddenly summer seems near, a possibility, even a promise…Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.
And I can’t help but respect her ability to face pain head-on and demand the reader does as well:
I no longer want reminders of what was, what got broken, what got lost, what got wasted. There was a period… during which I believed that I could keep people fully present, keep them with me, by preserving their mementos, their “things,” their totems… In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here. How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is something else I could never afford to see.
I had tried to read The Year of Magical Thinking, but stopped halfway through and just couldn’t continue. Stylistically it felt too grief-addled and too perfectly mirrored the circuitous thinking that trapped me during the years right after my brother died. And it foretold of future pain too raw, too unimaginable to come — the loss of my husband. The loss of my grandmothers, parents, friends. I simply had to stop and not re-live or pre-live the shocky, disoriented, disconnected miasma that was my past and must necessarily color my future.
But Blue Nights was different. I was grateful that Didion described her complicated relationship with her daughter — described Quintana’s psychological journey as well as her struggles with substance abuse. Also, having chosen not to have children of my own, I have the gift of distance from the experience of losing a child, which helped me appreciate Didion’s gift on a cerebral level. This memoir did drop a few too many names for me, but Didion is allowed to transverse her memories, her past, as she chooses, so while the bits about celebrities are not as meaningful or moving for the reader, a memoir of grief is first-and-foremost about the writer — and a gift if a reader is able to connect and engage with the writer’s memories.
Interested in winning a copy? Drop me a comment below! This did generate a wonderful discussion, by the way — but will inevitably encourage members to share personal memories and experiences.