Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Blue Nights - Joan Didion

Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, was written about the loss of her long-time husband.  I thoroughly identified with the book (not in terms of losing a spouse, but in the grief that comes with losing someone very close).  It is a book I feel everyone who has lost a loved one should read at some point - perhaps not right after a loss, but after some time has past and you wonder why the pain is still so real.  In that book, the reader also learns that Didion also lost her daughter, Quintana Roo, to a sudden and mysterious illness.  Blue Nights is the story of that loss, and of Didion's journey to motherhood.  As a new mother who has anxiety about all the possible dangers of the world and of losing my own child, I was reluctant to read this.  And as I write about it on my blog after not quite loving it, I think - how can I possibly critique a book about a mother's loss of her child - clearly it is powerful and raw and absolutely haunting.  Didion is a beautiful writer, but her use of repetition throughout the book - while I'm sure symbolic of the fact that she goes over everything in her mind again and again and again - became tedious for me at points.  It read at times more like a stream-of-consiousness poem than a book (and that's fine if that's what it was meant to be, but I think I wanted more of a memoir-like book).  And I felt like there was a lot of name-dropping and near bragging of how much of a jet-setter lifestyle she and her husband lived with her daughter learning to order off room service menus before age of five.  Perhaps in a time of the 99% and Occupy movements, I found it all a bit obnoxious.  There are some great lines, however - it actually caused me to use the "highlight" feature on my Kindle for the first time.  The one I read over and over was, "Once she was born I was never not afraid."  So simple and clear, but wholly encapsulating of how I feel about motherhood - and then the subsequent need to live and allow your child to live despite that fear.  And then, for Didion's greatest fear to be realized- to actually lose her daughter is truly heartbreaking.  For me this book was more about what it made me reflect on in my life than it was about understanding Didion's loss - mostly I think I am in awe of Didion for using her writing to help cope with such substantial loss and being able to share that pain with the world.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Your comments on this book were EXACTLY the way I felt about The Year of Magical Thinking. I liked it, but it was very repetitive and with a lot of name dropping. But you are so right- how does one critique someone else's account of such a loss. I hope to never be able to identify with her loss! And now I need to read the new Ann Patchett book. Love you!