Blue Nights by Joan Didion (A Review)

From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with bits of her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion examines her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old.

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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 profoundly moving.

(Summary from Goodreads)

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The summary as found in Goodreads and the inside book jacket is correct.  Having read The Year of Magical Thinkingwritten following Didion's husband's sudden death and during which her daughter, Quintana, fell seriously ill, I was curious to see where Didion journeyed following these crises.

I was not disappointed to find the same voice telling her story.  If Didion is anything as a writer, she is frank, honest and at times the reader might think her cold and uncaring. However, underlying her printed words is a sense of loyalty to her family members, both of whom have left her as she enters the decade of her 70s.

Blue Nights is a revelation of sorts as Didion dissects her life as a mother, wondering if she and her husband had forced Quintana into adulthood -- was she too cold -- and on the other hand Didion confesses to coddling Quintana -- “I had been raising her as a doll.”  Concerned about how Quintana sees her childhood, Didion asks her adult daughter her opinion. Quintana responds:  "I think you were a good parent, but maybe a little remote." (Emphasis mine.)

Yet, throughout the book Didion's love for Quintana is ever-present as is her pain at losing this child, a child adopted when Didion and her husband were unable to conceive their own.

Didion's writing style is strong despite sometimes rambling and straying from the topic the reader expected -- the story of Quintana and her death.  Often Didion seems dispassionate about Quintana while writing about material things, like the number of dresses in a closet, places Didion had lived, the expense accounts she and her husband used while travelling on book tours and other business related matters.  Where is the story of a mother and her daughter and the end of that daughter's  life?

I struggled through Blue Nights.  In many ways, the books were on a similar theme of loss and grief, and yet they were quite different.  Didion is quoted several times in various news articles as saying that The Year of Magical Thinking "simply wrote itself" and of Blue Nights: "This book did not write itself."  Perhaps the writer struggled with this book herself.

I would not recommend that a reader unfamiliar with Didion's other works read Blue Nights as first exposure to Didion's writings.  There are so many other things she has written which show her true talent for writing.  For more information on her work, visit her author page on Goodreads.  Here you will find a listing of her novels and essays, which are a good starting point for first-time Didion readers.