Blue Nights

  • by Joan Didion
  • Narrated by Kimberly Farr
  • 4 hrs and 21 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter. Richly textured with bits of her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion examines her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old.
Blue Nights opens on July 26, 2010, as Didion thinks back to Quintana’s wedding in New York seven years before. Today would be her wedding anniversary. This fact triggers vivid snapshots of Quintana’s childhood—in Malibu, in Brentwood, at school in Holmby Hills. Reflecting on her daughter but also on her role as a parent, Didion asks the candid questions any parent might about how she feels she failed, either because cues were not taken or perhaps displaced. “How could I have missed what was clearly there to be seen?” Finally, perhaps we all remain unknown to each other. Seamlessly woven in are incidents Didion sees as underscoring her own age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept.
Blue Nights—the long, light evening hours that signal the summer solstice, “the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but also its warning”—like The Year of Magical Thinking before it, is an iconic book of incisive and electric honesty, haunting and profoundly moving.

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Twilights turn Long and Blue

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."
-- Joan Didion, Blue Nights

It has been a decade since Joan Didion's daughter Quintana died. 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 2003. It dealt with her husband's death and her daughter's hospitalization (Quintana would later die in 2005 from pancreatitis. So, within about a year-and-a-half Didion would lose her husband and her daughter. Two deaths. Two books. 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:

"When I began writing these pages I believed their subject to be children, the ones we have and the ones we wish we had, the ways in which we depend on our children to depend on us, the ways in which we encourage them to remain children, the ways in which they remain more unknown to us than they do to their more casual acquaintances; the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them...

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."

She then clarifies that what this novel became, however, was more "the refusal even to engage in such contemplation, this failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, death."

This novel is better when she is using her knife to cut to the core of this failure, this fear, this inability to see people when they are here. 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.
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- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"

Disappointing.

What disappointed you about Blue Nights?

The extreme emphasis on celebrity name-dropping, place name-dropping, and privilege. It seems the real story is short and sad, and that the stage-setting and background was about the wealthy environment Quintana had grown up in. It felt shallow.


Has Blue Nights turned you off from other books in this genre?

I will review my choices more carefully.


Have you listened to any of Kimberly Farr???s other performances before? How does this one compare?

NA


What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment.


Any additional comments?

I came to this book with high expectations because I enjoyed A Year of Magical Thinking. I have read and enjoyed almost everything else that Joan Didion has written, and will try to not let this experience influence future choices.

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- Avid Reader

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-01-2011
  • Publisher: Random House Audio