Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Release Date
: November 1st 2011
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Publisher: Random House Canada
Also by this Author: The Year of Magical Thinking
Buy It: Book Depository
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.
I'd read at least one Joan Didion novel in the past (Play It As It Lays– there may have been others but I can't remember them offhand) but my most recent by her was a memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking which is about her husband's unexpected death and was, as expected, both beautiful written and incredibly depressing. So when I learned that her next book was another memoir, this time about her daughter's death (her daughter had been very ill in Magical Thinking), I was pretty conflicted. Of course I was going to read it, but I had to wait for the right mindset. Even after my friend Laala told me it wasn't nearly as depressing as her previous book... well I was still skeptical.

So that's why it took me about six months to finally read Blue Nights, but when I finally did I was incredibly surprised. As much as there are sad moments and many deaths in this memoir, what it really is, is a celebration of life. Didion's daughter, Quintana, once told her, on death "don't dwell on it", and that seems to be exactly what she's tried to do in Blue Nights. Instead, Didion reflects on some of the important moments in Quintana's life: her wedding, what it was like to adopt her, some memorable childhood memories. 

What definitely comes through in the pages of Blue Nights is the love Didion continues to have for her only child, but that is expected. What is more interesting, and complex, is her reflections on whether she was a good parent, whether she did everything she could. I think every parent must worry about those same things, and Didion examines them with a honest and eloquent voice. There is a lot of repetition in this book, and sometimes it felt like too much; the same memory told again when I was hoping for something fresh. At the same time, I wonder if that's because of Didion's grief, that obsessive way that you go over some specific moments when you loose a person; I could understand that, but still feel like she had a whole lifetime with her daughter to draw from, and I wish there had been a little bit more of it shared. 

Intertwined with Quintana's story is Didion's own reflections on aging and mortality, her own examination of herself, which was also really interesting to read about. I'm still in my early twenties, and so it is hard to imagine myself fifty years from now. There are some really powerful segments where she talks about the differences between how she continues to see herself, and how she really is. Didion writes: 
"A doctor to whom I occasionally talk suggests that I have made an inadequate adjustment to aging.
Wrong, I want to say.
In fact I have made no adjustment whatsoever to aging.
In fact I had lived my entire life to date without seriously believing that I would age.
I had no doubt that I would continue to wear the red suede sandals with four-inch heels that I had always preferred."
Blue Nights manages to celebrate and examine, rather than fall into the dark pit of tragedy, and though I wished for less repetition, what I found among it all was a beautifully written memoir that combines Didion's own story with that of her daughter in a unique and incredibly moving book. 

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