Joan Didion has survived two great losses. Survived may not be the right word, for it suggests either luck or inner strength. Didion would probably not claim either and prefer to turn back the clock. She would like to have her husband and daughter back. She would like not to be the one turning old and calling a taxi to take her to hospital in the middle of the night. She tells about her second loss in her new book Blue Nights.
In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion told about the sudden loss of and grieving for her husband author John Gregory Dunne. Part of that story was the life-threatening illness of their daughter Quintana Roo. Blue Nights continues that subplot, recounting Didion's life from Quintana's death in 2004 to a day in 2009 when Didion contemplated her daughter's wedding anniversary. As in The Year of Magical Thinking, she goes around and around her topics, repeating key phrases, several of which were her daughter's words. The effect is mesmerizing.
Didion skillfully uses details, describing the light of the night, their many houses, and the inevitable hospitals. I was struck by her describing dresses that she wore in the 1960s which are still in her closet, for I have a family that keeps old clothes. Didion write for many of us. Many parents will identify with her desire and inability to truly protect her child. Many too will consider whether they would prefer to be the one to die or the one to be left behind. Ultimately, Blue Nights is a painful book that takes a little courage to start but demands reading.
Didion, Joan. Blue Nights. Knopf, 2011. 188p. ISBN 9780307267672.