|tags:||Memoir & Essay|
BLUE NIGHTS IS JOAN DIDION'S LYRICAL MEMOIR about her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, who died in 2005. Unsurprisingly, it’s quite oblique, and confronts almost nothing bluntly head on. In many ways, it is an obvious sequel to the writer’s Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir Didion wrote about the loss she’d suffered two years before Quintana’s death, when Didion’s husband, the screenwriter and novelist John Gregory Dunne, collapsed in their New York City apartment from a massive heart attack and died. At the time of his death and for months afterward, Quintana Roo, the couple’s only child — at 39, a recent bride — lay in a coma in a hospital bed, suffering from a number of chronic and acute illnesses. She recovered well enough to attend a long-postponed service for her father, but then suffered an onslaught of emergency medical problems that led to acute pancreatitis, and her death.
Which left Joan Didion quite alone — and this is the intended subtext of Blue Nights. For like any Didion work of nonfiction, the book is more about Didion’s experience of its ostensible subject than it is about the subject itself. In fact, this is not a book that’s just about Quintana, or about the loss of family. This is autobiography at its most fragmented: Didion veering from her desire for a baby (one never imagines the author as maternal in any way, although she did buy a nice dress for Linda Kasabian, the Manson girl, so that Kasabian could look good at her trial) to the adoption of Quintana, and then into her own childhood in Sacramento and elsewhere, and from that into sweet snippets (and not so sweet) from Quintana’s Eloise-like upbringing. Then back again to Didion, and Hollywood, and going on location, and hanging out with other famous people, and dinner parties, and martinis and boats and fashion, etc., etc. Here’s Didion:
I am forced to remember the hotels in which [Quintana] had stayed before she was five or six or seven… On the face of it she had no business in these hotels.
The Lancaster and the Ritz and the Plaza Athenée in Paris.
The Dorchester in London.
The St. Regis and the Regency in New York, and also the Chelsea. The Chelsea was for those trips when we were not on expenses…
It was at the Ambassador, in the Pump Room at midnight, that she ate caviar for the first time…
Incidentally, her list of the very best hotels in the western world continues on longer than this, as if Didion herself — an Army brat who once lived with her brother and parents in one room, as she tells us, with “kitchen privileges” — still cannot believe the dizzying heights to which her success and her husband’s had brought her. And, by extension, Quintana.
The journalist Barbara Grizzuti Harrison wrote, in 1979:
When I am asked why I do not find Joan Didion appealing, I am tempted to answer — not entirely facetiously — that my charity does not naturally extend itself to someone whose lavender loveseats match exactly the potted orchids on her mantel, so...