1 March 2014

On Reading: Blue Nights by Joan Didion

I read Blue Nights by Joan Didion over the last two days. A deceptively slim book, it is rich and heavy. Last summer I read her The Year of Magical Thinking when I was devouring grief narratives. I had bought Blue Nights at the same time, but The Year of Magical Thinking was so devastating, I didn't think I could handle this one as well so soon.

The Year of Magical Thinking is considered a memoir about the death of Didion's husband, while Blue Nights is considered a memoir about the death of her daughter, but I don't think this is true. Yes, Quintana's death is an important part of the narrative, but Blue Nights is a meditation on mortality and Quintana's is used as a lens through which Didion views her own.

Didion's realization that her own death is coming, that her body is failing her, that she is becoming frail is beautifully revealed. A slow dawning, and perhaps an acceptance, to a degree, in light of her daughter's death.

There is much circling in the prose, returning to phrases and images, that makes Blue Nights feel almost like a long poem. I felt very much like I was privy to Didion's thought process, they way her mind now works, something that she's figuring out now.

The Year of Magical Thinking was so clearly about death and grief, while Blue Nights is more elusive. It's about mortality and mourning, which Didion clearly shows, is not the same ad death and grief--it's a fine line between them, but it is a line.

It's also about parenthood, while YOMT was about a marriage. The former messy and rich with loss, the later idealized. Perhaps it's not fair to compare the two books this way as they are much more different than they appear on the surface, but it also seems impossible not to. Blue Nights is an incredibly intimate book, but I didn't find it devastating. I had expected to, and am thankful that I didn't, but I'm also not sure why. Is it because Didion's revelations are my own? Or they are so removed from my own? I'm not sure, but I know I'll return to Blue Nights, probably sooner rather than later.

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