Sunday, August 31, 2014

Blue Nights (2011)

I like both Blue Nights and The Year of Magical Thinking nearly as much as my favorite by Joan Didion, The White Album. It is very hard on every level, what she is doing, has done. Hard to live through it most of all. The whole story is so harrowing as to be almost too personal, too specific in all its necessary detail. First the sudden death of her husband and then the illness and subsequent death of her adopted daughter. See how quickly it becomes overloaded and tender. Is it necessary that I characterize her deceased daughter as "adopted"? It is so interesting that these things happen to Joan Didion—terrible, awful, shattering events. But interesting nonetheless. The White Album is a masterpiece of anxiety and dread which somehow feels insulated from a certain perspective, as she always maintains her cool and poise in her authorial voice, no matter what the breakdowns and gnawing cerebral fears described. Blue Nights is not so different, though the vector tends naturally more toward the internal. Joan Didion is as ruthlessly clinical in her approach to her daughter Quintana Roo, as she is to everything, going through her papers and quoting from them, attempting to understand across the great chasm between parent and child, emotional problems, potential mental health issues, and lots of good old generation gap, which happens in every family ad infinitum. Tolstoy's dictum about families always missed the fact that all families are complex combinations of the happy and unhappy, or perhaps it didn't. It is also interesting how unexposed in the end is Quintana Roo—I have little sense of her as a person, who she was, what she was about. This is partly by design I'm sure—Didion is that good—but also parents and children inevitably miss great swaths of one another's lives, often through willful intentionality but also as a function of how much time they must spend on the planet with and without the other. Quintana Roo was not even 40 when she died. So much is compressed into the strange and powerful last line of this book: "Yet there is no day in her life on which I do not see her."

In case it's not at the library.

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