Guide Blue Nights

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This is the same woman who felt it was perfectly acceptable to bring her infant to a reporting assignment covering the fall of Saigon. Who thought it appropriate in response to this assignment to go out and buy a bunch of designer clothes. And while this disconnect with reality is a trademark of hers, it might work for her persona as a writer, it fails when we consider her as a parent. As a writer, we might find it privately amusing that she would fly from Honolulu and arrive in Hartford when it was below zero without a sweater.

The reader takes a back-seat to the parent. Didion's detachment has always been her strength. But it's an odd detachment, which is why I think it works so well in her writing. Because it's the detachment of the walking wounded. Someone so battered by reality that detachment is the only way to survive. It's the detachment of someone trying to make sense out of the nonsensical. As a parent and please don't assume that I think I'm a fantastic parent--merely adequate , I'm listening to her questioning her efficacy as a parent, and I feel like shouting, honey, it's not about you.

That's what parenting is. It's not about you. Which seems manifestly unfair because her writing has always been about her and not about her. But you can't carry that sensibility into parenting. I read over these verbal snapshots of her life and marriage, and all I can think of was that Quintana never got to be a child. They may have loved her unquestionably, but the Dunnes went on location, stayed in swanky hotels, wrote their articles, movie scripts, and books, and dragged her along for the ride.

So much for the personal issues I had with this book. We come to the writing.

BLUE NIGHT - (Lyrics)

It's part and parcel of other physical frailties, but although the physical maladies are terrifying, they pale in contrast to the idea that she's losing her truly wonderful way of parsing words. That her style is becoming trite, that an ability to write so clearly about the lack of center is now suffering from not having its own center. And while I can't say that her writing falls short the beginning of this book is as masterful a beginning as I've ever read , there is a sense of, um, where's the editor?

Her repetition of phrases and concepts that in previous works united a bunch of seemingly disparate events to create a fractured whole, now does seem something of a tic. Another stylistic choice that seemed to dominate this book was, for want of a better word, product placement. And by that I mean it is never a pair of shoes, a hotel, a sweater; it's Laboutins, the Dorchester, cashmere. Truly, are we supposed to lament that Bendel's is no longer the same? Even people are nothing more than product placement.


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This actress, this director gave a speech at Quintana's wedding. Part of the strength of Didion's work written in the s and the s is that the protagonists of her essays were no different than you or I, except that maybe they were part of Manson's family.

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And although that is a hell of a difference, in her hands it was also not a hell of a difference. A "there but for the grace of God" sensibility dominated. In her current work everyone has a name. Almost like these larger than life people had no right to up and die. Unlike you and me. Because we don't have names. It's unsettling at first and then becomes annoying. It undercuts the real issue in this book. The loss of her daughter. Does it really matter that she went to school with and had dinner at this restaurant with this Hollywood icon? It doesn't make her passing any more tragic, although there is the hint that she was special because of it.

When in reality, she was special because she was so loved. In the end I certainly would recommend this book because Joan Didion is one of the most thoughtful and fantastic writers of her generation, but Blue Nights doesn't have the strength of The Year of Magical Thinking. I think this is the most personal of her books for obvious reasons , but it's also one of her weaker books, perhaps the inevitable fall out of the detached finally becoming attached with little to attach to.

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Apr 12, Ruth rated it it was ok. I wanted to like this book more than I did. I am very sorry poor Joan D's husband died, and then her only child is dead.


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  • But, she writes this book in a confusing way, and I'm not sure what to make of it. Even the title phrase, which she tries to explain, is elusive to me. I learned way more about her life and her daughter in her prior book The Yr of Magical Thinking. That topic was the sad and sudden death of her husband. This book is about the sad and not sudden death of her daughter, who die I wanted to like this book more than I did.

    This book is about the sad and not sudden death of her daughter, who died less than two years after Mr. If your child dies, how are you supposed to make it into a nice, readable tale? But I was not very thrilled with this book. I don't know how likeable the narrator is. I can't understand if her daughter, named Quitana, was a trunk-full of trouble growing up, or not. There is mention of diagnosis and some mental problems, but it is not explained. The daughter is adopted, and I was expecting a more heartfelt quest for parenthood that you commonly hear from adoptive families.

    This was nothing like that, it seemed to happen on a lark--mentioning they were trying to have a baby Ms. Didion was in her early thirties or late twenties, I think. She was not too old to conceive by general standards, but nothing is explained. She does recount the bio family connecting up with her daughter, but there is no emotional expression that colors it.

    It is factual and clinical and kind of dull. Didion has regrets about the kind of mother she was, but she does not really get into it, but she seems almost defensive over the "privileged" life she gave her daughter. This is odd, because there are no apologies for the extravagant life style.

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    And I got annoyed with the life style--she and John live it up on expense accounts, presumably movie companies and publishers. It makes me uncomfortable when perfectly well off people are such sponges. Flying to Hawaii, to Europe, summers in France and so on. If now she wasn't all alone and sad, I might be jealous.

    There is an annoying tale of strange bitterness involving the house she had in California. She wrote about it enough in the "Yr of Magical Thinking",here it is again. She and her husband sold the house, moved to NYC. The buyer flattered their bookish egos, and then tore the whole place down and built a new one. It wasn't even a wonderful house, but J. It is one topic she is clear about that hurt her. I have read some of JD's other books and I like her style, but in this case, it has its limits.

    She mentions Quitana's husband,but he does not get one adjective. It is disconcerting she is unwilling to depict him, but instead will recount the patterns of hospital curtains. She will mention where the wedding cake came from many times, it means nothing tome. What designer dress was that? I don't care, your upper class trappings don't resonate. The content is often utterly uninteresting, such as a verse from the Eagles' song "Hotel California".

    This thinness to the content seems to be embellished with passages having repeated phrases and their cadences. It just did not work for me. An only child of intellectuals is bound to be precocious, and all kids say fascinating things, something Ms. She repeats the story of Q. It is not exactly bragging, but J. I am not sure if her writing this book was anything more than just making some coin. Maybe she got bad advice. I do feel sorry for her, not because she is alone and old, because we will all be old or dead , and you are always alone. I feel sorry for her because she seemed to lose her footing in life happens to everyone , and trying to write about it does not seem to help.

    Dec 01, Carol added it Shelves: A brief yet heart-aching, poetic insight of grief relating the death of Didion's adult daughter Quintana. It's in the blue nights that the questions, the grappling for answers plague us. As Didion explains this 'Blue Nights—the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, "the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning".

    View all 11 comments. Jul 15, Cheryl rated it really liked it Shelves: In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue…you pass a window, you walk to Central Park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue…over the course of an hour or so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades… As I type this, I wonder if I'd be so lucky as to come across a blue night tonight; the tranquil sight of a sky so clear, yet so blue.

    And ye In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue…you pass a window, you walk to Central Park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue…over the course of an hour or so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades… As I type this, I wonder if I'd be so lucky as to come across a blue night tonight; the tranquil sight of a sky so clear, yet so blue. And yet Blue Nights mean the opposite of brightness, "the inevitability of the fading.

    Her meddlesome prose which interposes narrative with questions, questions with thoughts, thoughts with research. She makes ordinary contemplations extraordinary. I found myself reading this book at night, in one sitting, cover to cover, holding my breath and wondering whether it was too disheartening of a read to try and tackle before going to bed. Blue Nights is a candid reflection on death, motherhood, illness, and loss of an only daughter. Though I wouldn't recommend reading this before reading The Year of Magical Thinking , wherein Didion deals with the loss of her husband, business partner, writing soulmate and more.

    You read her books and you understand the life and times of the American writer most people only dream of becoming, you see snippets of the behind-the-scenes life of the woman who penned numerous books and memoirs, as well as screenplays with her husband. Mostly, you see a mother's pain as she remembers the daughter who passed at such a young age. By the way, if you've read Isabel Allende's memoir, Paula , you will enjoy the similar themes of love, death, and remembrance: What remained until now was unfamiliar, what I recognize in the photographs but failed to see at the time they were taken, are the startling depths and shallows of her expressions, the quicksilver changes of mood.

    Whenever Didion was working on a book, her husband said, she stayed up until about three in the morning, had a drink, and read some poetry before going to bed; T. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, W. Auden, you name it. You see the poetry in her writing: This is why you read Didion. You also read knowing that there will be tons of questions she'll ask of herself, she will challenge herself on the page, she will involve you the reader, she will show why memoir is thought-provoking and universal in its approach: My cognitive confidence seems to have vanished altogether.

    Even the correct stance for telling you this, the ways to describe what is happening to me, the attitude, the tone, the very words, now elude my grasp. When her daughter Quintana was younger, Didion always made her lunch the night before. This is how her husband described the lunch in his wedding toast to their daughter: In each vignette-driven chapter, she seems to contemplate life through death, making sense of all that is good, so that one doesn't die while still alive.

    Though this seems odd, it is a concept easy to grasp. With this memoir, she does what her entire family seems to have done at every downturn in life: But this is pure Didion style, she will get to the point in an oblique fashion. When we lose that sense of possible we lose it fast. View all 19 comments. Apr 16, Paul rated it really liked it Shelves: My first work by Didion, this is a follow up to The Year of Magical Thinking, where Didion wrote about the loss of her husband.

    Whilst Didion does cover the adoption of her daughter and some of her earlier life, but she also goes on to relate the effects of aging and her reflections on them. Didion has worked with words for a living and she is good with them. Her ability to My first work by Didion, this is a follow up to The Year of Magical Thinking, where Didion wrote about the loss of her husband. She wove white stephanotis into the thick braid that hung down her back.

    She dropped a tulle veil over her head and the stephanotis loosened and fell. The father of the bride dead at his own dinner table? The bride herself in an induced coma, breathing only on a respirator not expected by the doctors in the intensive care to live the night? The first in a cascade of medical crises that would end twenty months later with her death. It is a powerful memoir with some interesting reflections on aging, but I was never quite sure what it was designed to be. Nov 05, Deborah A. Well, it's probably blasphemy to say this, and I did give this book the highest possible rating, but some of Didion's stylistic methods: They felt like tricks rather than fluid means of transcending the personal and reaching the universal.

    I actually got annoyed with the narrator when she couldn't seem to answer her own interminable questions when the answers seemed obvious to me. Of course, if your mother ha Well, it's probably blasphemy to say this, and I did give this book the highest possible rating, but some of Didion's stylistic methods: Of course, if your mother has chronic migraine, carries a presumptive diagnosis of MS, looks frail, writes about chaos and the meaninglessness of the universe, and your parents take you with them around the world to movie sets and agents' offices, you may well become precocious, feel as if it is your job to take care of them, and develop your own sense that the universe is meaningless and chaotic.

    Is this really mysterious? How could you not ask "what if you weren't home when the doctor called to offer me to you," etc. How can Didion not see how much Quintana probably wanted to be a writer like Mom and Dad? Didion approaches and then darts away from deeper understanding of her daughter's and her own psychology. Can she only think about her daughter empathetically for so long before she has to shift focus to herself?

    I understand that the larger themes are mortality and the unwillingness to acknowledge the passage of time, etc. Didion also throws around psychiatric diagnoses applied at various times to Quintana as if they explain her but it feels cruel to apply a diagnosis so often used to discredit intense women, and so often lacking in scientific validity -- borderline personality disorder -- to describe her daughter. It doesn't explain at this point, it only discredits. I haven't yet quite gotten to the end of the book but it's still not clear to me what the connection is between these psychiatric diagnoses and her daughter's final physical illness.

    Maybe Didion is relying on the reader to connect some of these dots, but for some reason this book felt more coy and evasive than her other works. Are we being asked to forgive her? Tell her that whatever happened with her daughter isn't her fault? Or condemn and forgive her at the same time?

    Sorrowful 'Blue Nights': Didion Mourns Her Daughter

    Is the subject matter still too fraught, too painful, the relationship too unresolved? Am I projecting here my own feelings about my mother and her blindnesses to me? I feel as if I'm being too hard on Didion -- What could be more horrible than losing your husband and your daughter within a few months of one another, in the midst of losing your own physical and cognitive bearings? Didion is brave to even broach these subjects, and even when she's not at the top of her game, she's better than virtually everyone else writing memoir.

    I relished every word of this book even as I sometimes wanted to shake the narrator. View all 5 comments. Jan 15, Ciara rated it it was ok Shelves: View all 4 comments. Feb 21, Fionnuala added it Shelves: I had two contrary reactions while reading this book. Didion, a sad, frail woman, grieving for all her lost friends and especially for her husband and daughter, feels compelled to torment herself with a detailed analysis of all the occasions when she may have failed as a parent, all the occasions when she thinks that she missed what her daughter was trying to tell her.

    Each photograph or memento which she describes becomes the occasion for I had two contrary reactions while reading this book. Each photograph or memento which she describes becomes the occasion for another another lash of the whip. The reader is screaming "stop" by half way through. Children survive in spite of, not because of, their parents. There are no perfect parents. She may feel that her writing style has become diminished by age but I found it still quite remarkable.

    Her efforts at being searingly honest with herself are also impressive, accompanied as they are by her seeming ignorance of the more basic difficulties of most people's lives.

    “Blue Nights” by Joan Didion - The Washington Post

    I'm glad I read this elegant testament. View all 13 comments. Dec 29, Darwin8u rated it liked it Shelves: Joan Didion was 75 when she wrote this book. She wrote her first grief memoir The Year of Magical Thinking after her husband died in It dealt with her husband's death and her daughter's hospitalization Quintana would later die in from pancreati "In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and rolling the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.

    It dealt with her husband's death and her daughter's hospitalization Quintana would later die in from pancreatitis. So, within about a year-and-a-half Didion would lose her husband and her daughter. The first primarily focuses on her husband's sudden death and her daughter's illness. The second focuses on her daughter and her own frailty. Didion summarizes what she is after with this book in chapter 9: The ways in which our investments in each other remain to freighted ever to see the other clear. The ways in which neither we nor they can bear to contemplate the death or illness or even aging of the other.

    This novel is genius when she is piercing the center of grief and exploring how grief is often the realization that memories often provide evidence to how unawake we were to the people we loved when it mattered, when they lived. How the fear of death also contains the seeds of knowledge.

    We begin to understand that those cherished memories of loved ones gone, will die with us. That with our own deaths those memories die forever. They vanish into the night. Our loved ones die twice. This novel is weak, however, because at times it seems like a prose sorting of old memories. Like going through a loved ones box of sundries and remembering the whens, the whys, the hows. It is a bit scattered and while still good, it was just not great. It is also weak in her repetitions. I get what she was doing. The repetition of certain memories and phrases were like a mantra, a prayer, a devotion.

    It felt a little like Gertrude Stein, but lacked Stein's beauty or Didion's power. One of my least favorite of Didion's nonfiction. Nov 12, Melissa rated it it was ok Shelves: I haven't the heart to try to rewrite the whole thing. Suffice to say that this book was not as sad as The Year of Magical Thinking although I expected it to be harder to bear. To lose a husband is one thing, but to lose a child far, far worse. Thinking about my son dying makes me literally sick to my stomach. I expected to be cut to bits by this. I wasn't, which is good for me but bad for the book. The tiny intimate details that made Magical Thinking so devastating aren't present here.

    Didion reiterates the same few stories - the Broken Man that Quintana was afraid of when she was little, the story they told her to explain her adoption, the conversation Didion had with a doctor while her daughter was literally dying in front of her. These stories seem to lose their potency for me through repetition. Didion admits that she's having trouble writing with the same flow and style that she used to, and sadly, it's not hard for the reader to tell. View all 9 comments. Oct 15, Matt added it. In some ways Blue Nights , the grim companion piece to The Year of Magical Thinking , seems like the book Didion was put on earth to write--why else the long career as unsentimental witness recounting what she's seen without affect or excess?

    Here she turns her eye on the some of truest subjects of the human experience, the ones we avoid daily every way we can by spreading a fog of delusion around them: Didion writes with clarity and honesty about them all. In anot In some ways Blue Nights , the grim companion piece to The Year of Magical Thinking , seems like the book Didion was put on earth to write--why else the long career as unsentimental witness recounting what she's seen without affect or excess?

    In another way, though, it's hard not to feel nostalgic as Didion herself seems to for the trenchant author of the s essays, who could constellate a series of images into a scalpel-sharp critique. Here instead at times we find, for instance, the overly-literary device of lines repeated in new arrangements--sometimes to great effect, as the lines reveal new gut-punch resonances in new contexts; other times the repetition feels more like a tick or a trick.

    So do we let this and other infelicities go because of the gravity of the topic, the death of a child and Didion's own dimming lights as she confronts the reality of her age? Jan 11, Velvetink rated it really liked it Shelves: The first chapter I hated her, had not read her before , hated her celebrity name dropping, the Chanel suits, and what she named her daughter. By the end I was bawling. I'm still not sure I like her. I find the effect rather flat and also childish or primitive in the construction. Yet there are moments when it comes together and you feel her pain at the lack and you might cry.

    But she's ice and essentially it's all really about her, not her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo. Didion reminds me of Susan Sarandon playing the devoted Marmee, the mother of Jo Winonna Rider in "Girl Interrupted" and it's not unreasonable to me to see why both Quintana and Jo get diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I don't think it's beautiful writing but it's effective.

    It's almost like a skillfully orchestrated advertisment or newspaper article that is trying to sell you something - a point of view, an excuse, a subterfuge for something lacking. Nov 19, Hank Stuever rated it liked it. Would give it 3. Didion has been my favorite writer for more than 20 years. This book is totally her, served raw. Only Joan Didion can get away with writing like Joan Didion. Otherwise, large parts of this book would be strangely embarrassing.

    I was struck many times by the lovely, forlorn quality of this book. But just as often, I was puzzled by her ability to withhold information, given that she is so singularly hailed as someone -- a journalist, in a way Would give it 3. But just as often, I was puzzled by her ability to withhold information, given that she is so singularly hailed as someone -- a journalist, in a way -- who cuts through the BS. She never really tells us what Quintana died of.

    She gave us more medical information when writing about Quintana's health issues in "The Year of Magical Thinking. Also, I think Didion tries and fails here to defend her own ideas of privilege and class when describing her domestic life over the last four decades. Not super rich, but not exactly of the people, either. A reader will likely spend some time looking up very rarefied brand names and botanical nomenclature. This Didion is the "neurasthenic Cher" a critic derided years ago. But I like this Didion too, and always have. Nobody parallel-parks a sentence like this woman.

    Nobody has this sort of precision. They are key parts of the puzzle. Any excuse to go back and look through them. I always learn something new. Sep 19, Lindsey rated it it was amazing Shelves: I don't want to review this. Joan Didion knows exactly what the ding dang she's doing. She's still Joan Didion, still somewhat distant and removed from her subject matter, able to describe it all clearly, sometimes SO clearly it seems like she just floated through it all, invisible. I can't imagine her ever holding a baby, cooing it to sleep.

    She's cool, she's California, she's wearing sunglasses, she's staring unsmiling into the camera. But the memories of Quintana that she r I don't want to review this. But the memories of Quintana that she returns to again and again in this book--the repetition is so effective; devastating, especially in the final chapter--are so full of tenderness and poignancy that there is no denying that she was is a mother the same as every mother, same as our own mothers. And that she's a human who is coming face-to-face with her own mortality.

    I feel unqualified to speak on it, not because I think I'm some lowly nobody though duh I am but because it feels cruel to rate it. You should read it. What else is there to say. May 31, Judy rated it really liked it Shelves: I went into this book prepared to have trouble with it. It took me close to three years to get over my Mom's death. I have not ever lost a child, despite two close calls. I just did not feel ready to read a book about mourning. Blue Nights First edition.

    Blue Nights

    Accessed November 5, The New York Times. Works by Joan Didion. Retrieved from " https: Knopf books books Memoir stubs. Pages to import images to Wikidata All stub articles. Views Read Edit View history. This page was last edited on 14 April , at By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. This article about a memoir is a stub.