Friday, June 15, 2012

Blue Nights

Twenty months, that is all it took for Joan Didion’s world to be turned upside down. In the span of twenty months Didion lost her husband, author John Dunne, and her only child, Quintana Roo Dunne. From these tragic twin losses Didion has authored two powerful memoirs: The Year of Magical Thinking, which covers Didion’s first year of widowhood, and Blue Nights which reflects on her daughter’s life and the passage of time.

As Didion shares:
[A]ll seemed well when we were shaking off the leis onto the grass outside St. John the Divine on July 26, 2003. Could you have seen, had you been walking on Amsterdam Avenue and caught sight of the bridal party that day, how utterly unprepared the mother of the bride was to accept what would happen before the year of 2003 had even ended? The father of the bride dead at his own dinner table? The bride herself in an induced coma, breathing only on a respirator, not expected by the doctors in the intensive care unit to live the night? The first in a cascade of medical crises that would end twenty months later with her death? 

After experiencing these bookend losses in quick succession, it is amazing that Didion is still standing, let alone crafting beautiful, insightful, memoirs! Be warned, however, Didion’s writing style is not traditional i.e. “he said this and then she did that.” Rather reading Didion is akin to reading poetry: lines and themes are frequently repeated, but each time a new nuance is revealed.

 In Blue Nights, Didion skips between the past (raising her daughter and the insights gained in hindsight) and the present/future (what it means to grow old alone). On the parenting topic, Didion is a harsh judge of what she missed as a parent. For instance, Didion now realizes that Quintana displayed a high level of anxiety at a young age. On the subject of aging, Didion somberly confesses: “Could it be that I did not figure in either the general nature or the permanence of the slowing, the irreversible changes in mind and body, the way you wake one summer morning less resilient than you were and by Christmas find your ability to mobilize gone, atrophied, no longer extant?"  Notwithstanding the back and forth nature of the memoir, the mix between young motherhood and modern day frailty works well.

 I found Blue Nights to be profoundly sad, but a worthwhile read!

Reviewed based on personal copy.


  1. I did enjoy her Magical Thinking memoir, but not sure I could take another sad book like that right now. Glad you liked it.

  2. Oh my gosh, I don't know how she managed to climb out of all of that grief. The book might be too poetic for me.

  3. So sad!! I'd like to read both books sometime.

  4. I've read both and agree with you... 'profoundly sad'. It's unfortunate that some people think Didion was bathing in self-pity as if the 'privileged' could not feel grief. I didn't know about these reactions to her memoirs until I read comments on my review post. If you're interested, here's the link to it. Thanks for posting. I've enjoyed the chance to re-visit it again.