Monday, November 14, 2011
Blue Nights by Joan Didion
The writer Joan Didion knows all about grief, its many forms and its many machinations, it has struck repeatedly those she has known and loved and often at a very young age. Her husband John Gregory Dunne died at their dinner table while daughter Quintana was in the ICU Unit at John Hopkins Hospital seriously ill, Joan wrote a magnificent book called The Year of Magical Thinking which described in a heart wrenching yet beautiful, exquisite, prose the path that that first year took her down and how she survived it.
This book tells the interweaved, interconnected story of the life and early death of Quintana against the backdrop of her parents story,their shared lives and the joys, challenges, fears and overwhelming love that the adoption of Quintana brought to their lives, a life that as Joan tells it was privileged, not always easy but on balance could truly be called well lived. Although Quintana`s death at 38 could hardly be called fair and her life certainly wasn`t long, it was packed with experiences that could only have bequeathed to her a rich tapestry on which she hoped to paint the rest of that life with her husband Gerry.
Didion`s description of how the rug was pulled out from under Quintana on the cusp of a new life, newly married and suffused with a rare happiness tells us with startling clarity how cruel the fates can be, how unexpected can be the hand of death and how powerless we really are to prevent it.
Didion paints her own portrait of loss and in words that dance on the page, they are carefully chosen and they are purposeful, many are not easy to read, their poignancy can bring tears but oh how she shares the life of Quintana with an honesty and rare bravery, she links it so beautifully with other lives ended early such as Natasha Richardson and with the lives of family and friends many still living all who contributed, good, bad and indifferently to Quintana`s and her parents lives. As much as she shares death, she shares life. As a young woman I wouldn`t have read or understood Joan Didion with much alacrity but now with a dose of maturity I have read her writing and been enhanced by the lessons she has shared, to say this book gets you thinking is an understatement. Would Joan Didion see herself as a Teacher of Life Lessons, probably not but she is and she has much more to share. Brilliant, touching, moving and elegant, the thought I am left with is that as Joan writes she realises, the fear we are left with is not for what we have lost but for what we still have to lose. So true whatever our own experience.