Blue Nights by Joan Didion explores the death of the author’s adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, by discussing her experience with parenthood and growing old.
Didion recounts many moments in her life in her memoir, filling each chapter with bittersweet memories of her daughter. Didion also shares many personal moments in her life, ranging from her early childhood until this memoir’s publishing. In recalling both her daughter’s life and her own, Didion questions whether she made the right decisions in motherhood while simultaneously grieving the loss of her husband.
What makes Didion’s novels different from other memoirs is the way she puts her memories into words. The way she recalls remnants of her life and shares her every thought is unique from other writers; her work is so personal, it’s as if we are both watching her grieve her loved ones while also feeling sympathy for her. The writing in Blue Nights constantly reminds us that healing does not happen overnight. Despite the emotional premise of this memoir, Didion’s writing style remains consistent with her other works: beautiful and detailed. She brings so much emotion to her writing and executes each scene poignantly without holding her feelings back. Her ability to be vulnerable yet precise in writing is beyond admirable, making each of her memoirs beautiful in its own distinctive way.
In all honesty, I was hesitant about reading this book after hearing how saddening the premise was. However, I later found myself in awe of this memoir because of how powerfully Didion describes grief. Blue Nights is a perfect representation of grieving because her feelings shine through each passage, but also because the novel itself is her healing process. Whether she is writing symbolically or being straightforward, her hard-hitting words left me empathizing with her for every page turned. Didion and her daughter shared a very loving relationship, and she even references Quintana Roo’s love for Malibu when talking about her daughter’s childhood and marriage. Didion’s admiration for her loved ones is apparent throughout her memoir, but she allows them to live on even after their passing. The battle that Didion faces with grief is more than inspiring, and her unique writing demonstrates that.
Blue Nights by Joan Didion is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free on Libby.
A Year of Magical Thinking examines Joan Didion’s life and methods of mourning following the death of her husband of forty years, John Dunne.
Throughout the novel, Didion details her avoidance of, then obsession over, the sudden cardiac event one December night that killed the love of her life. The added stress of her daughter, Quintana Roo, being in the hospital on life support at the time leads to an nervous breakdown of sorts–and an examination of the nature of grieving and mourning itself.
I was first introduced to Didion’s writing about a year ago, and she quickly became one of my favorite authors of all time. That being said, I was a little reluctant to read this book- I knew that the subject matter would be darker and sadder than her usual writing style. Still, I was thoroughly impressed. Despite the turmoil in her personal life, Didion keeps her writing clean and precise, and doesn’t dwell on heavy-handed clichés about grief to convey her ideas; in fact, she even rejects some of these clichés (especially those about ‘healing’ and ‘coping’) as unrealistic.
Even so, the reader can feel her pain through her writing. She and John were inseparable- she even cites an instance when she was in San Francisco for a week writing a piece, and he would fly up from Santa Monica every night to have dinner with her before flying home again to be with their daughter. The loss hits her hard, and it’s apparent- she struggles desperately to keep herself sane and strong, for the sake of her daughter.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.
The White Album by Joan Didion is a epistographical novel covering the turbulent period from the 1960s-1970s. Spanning topics including the Black Panthers, the Manson murders, and even the collapse of her own marriage, the book critically examines the meaningless experience of existence and the atomization of society during this time period.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” reads the opening line of the book. From that instant, I was hooked. I’ve been reading Didion’s oeuvre for more than a year now, starting with Slouching Towards Bethlehem as a required reading my junior year of high school. That book changed my life, and The White Album did not disappoint either. Her perfectly restrained emotion, her clarity of thought, and her perceptive insights combine to lend meaning to even some of the most senseless experiences of the 60s- such as the Manson murders. Didion even details, with the delicate removal of writing a grocery list, her meetings with Linda Kasabian, key witness in the Manson trial. She speaks of the short silk dress she wore to her wedding- and in the next sentence, mentions a similar white dress she herself purchased for Kasabian to wear on the first day of her testimony. The compassion she reserves for some is replaced with acrid disdain for others- Doris Lessing is described as someone who “does not want to ‘write well.’ Her leaden disregard for even the simplest rhythms of language, her arrogantly bad ear for dialogue- all of that is beyond her own point.” Even Huey Newton, a key leader of the Black Panthers is not spared- she describes him as “someone for whom safety lies in generalization.” She relates every experience with the utmost honesty and provides a matte-glass window into the experiences of our country’s, and her personal, pasts.
I would recommend this book to anyone, really! I’m a huge Joan Didion fan 🙂