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It's an incredibly personal moving tribute and chronicle of loss, you have to keep that in mind. It's raw and unpolished. It's not meant to have any great epiphanies or any kind of bright outlook or moving personal growth, etc. It's simply the act of and details surrounding loss, which is all very personal. So I can't say that I liked or loved it; it just is what it is. God, what Didion has been through. She has got to be the toughest woman I've ever heard of. If you haven't read 'The Year Of Magical Thinking', try to read that first, then this one. For being able to write through it, for being able to survive it, she is my hero.
After watching the Netflix doc on Joan (in which some moving passages from this book are read), I expected somehow to be moved more by it. It's a thoughtful mediation on the loss of her daughter, but apart from a few eloquent lines (most effectively, a passage about how saving mementos just refreshes the loss, not the closeness) I found it rather banal and impassive, as if needlessly preoccupied with trying to write from an overly fair and objective viewpoint. I had rather hoped it might serve as a guide for coping with a loss that won't stop echoing (some of you may know what I'm referring to). That said, it's not without its merits. Perhaps if you go into it with lower expectations than I had, you might benefit from it.
I love Joan Didion and will continue to read her writing because she gives a calm, distilled perspective I otherwise would not see. But I was disappointed in Blue Nights because I measured it against The Year of Magical Thinking which was so rich that I was compelled to share excerpts of it with others as a read. Blue Nights is a fine and necessary tribute to Didion's daughter Quintana Roo, but it won't echo in my brain for 40 years like the story from Slouching Toward Bethlehem about the murder in Cucamonga has.
Readers have complained that Didion's story is dripping in pretension--with designer names at every turn--how true this is and yet it's proof that all the money and privilege in the world can't save a family from aging, illness, or death.
I read Didion's story in a few hours just taking time for dinner and sticking with it until the final page. I won't say that it was mesmerizing but I was anxious to hear everything that she had to say. There were some illuminating stories from her daughter's life--poignant stories--shocking actually for us to see how old beyond her years Quintana was at various points in her short life.
Didion sandwiches these stories of her daughter, an old soul, with stories of Didion herself at age 75 who is becoming increasingly frail and conscious of her vulnerability. She is not as afraid of death as she is of being imprisoned in her body here on earth as a result of sickness or injury, of having some part of her seriously compromised especially her mind. I too fear such things. But as usual, I find that people who don't seem to believe in an afterlife have a very final way of looking at suffering and death. Even Didion's daughter spoke of wanting to "be in the ground and sleep."
I found myself becoming impatient with Didion's narrative so peppered with designer names and names of people she has known which have no relevance for the reader who simply wants to know about the mother and daughter whose relationship was cut short by the daughter's untimely passing. I feel deeply for a woman who lost her husband and daughter in a period of less than two years and who now faces old age without the familiarity of family for support. I lost my husband three years ago and I too have one daughter, an only child, and feel very blessed to still have her. But then I think Didion sees the flaw in her writing--she complains that it's hard for her to be direct in writing about feelings. My heart goes out to her because, as she tells us, her memories are no comfort to her. I would wish for her an emergence of faith in something more, something beyond the finality of death.
Now Joan Didion is, of course a brilliant writer. I have always, however pictured her as rather a cold cup of tea. Her book after her husband died, though precise in detail and receptive thought was written pretty much the way a person grieves...in disjointed patches, with and without emotion, recalling bizarre unrelated details. I could understand the focus as well as no focus. I did however think she would be in for a surprise when she realized grief doesn't stop after twelve months. But be that as it may, I was struck by how this book about the hideously tragic death of her daughter, to me the worst thing that could happen to a person, ended up being more a book about her and her life and her notable friends and houses and very little about understanding her daughter. Very little description about who her daughter was, what she really wanted or what she needed from her Mother. Gideon's role as a Mother and her thoughts about Motherhood and assessment of herself as a nurturing Mother...were left unexamined. I finished the book astonished to know so little about them both.
Joan Didion is such a wonderful writer that even though this book was totally self indulgent - written for her and not for the reader - it was written in a poignant pace with some outstanding literary constructions. However, the book was so objectively self observant and dispassionate, that it was difficult to feel the appropriate amount of empathy for Ms. Didion's duel tragedies. Claire Stanard