I finished Joan Didion’s new book, BLUE NIGHTS, reluctantly switching off my Kindle in the wee hours. Like Anne Rivers Siddons, Alice Hoffman and Anna Quindlen, Didion delivers the kind of prose that makes a reader stop, breathe deeply, and wait out the rush of emotion the author's words bring to the surface. In the case of BLUE NIGHTS it is pain, wrenching and emotional, the kind of pain that the death of a child brings.
The book is about Didion’s daughter, Quintana Roo, who died at age 39 after battling a complexity of illnesses for two years. Adding to the author’s tragic circumstance is the loss of her husband, John Dunne, who died of a heart attack shortly after the collapse of their daughter.
Despite the subject matter, the book isn’t morose. It’s a revelation, a quick jolt of the familiar, bringing to mind an, “Oh, yes, I remember feeling like that.” It’s also the story of a family living a privileged life in the golden age of Hollywood, a working mother, a man in love with his wife, an adored child and a marriage that lasted a lifetime. Anecdotes of celebrity dinner parties, movie scripts and films are interspersed with flashbacks of family scenes and lovely words like, “What remained until now 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.” What mother hasn’t seen long ago photos of her child and wondered how she could have missed what should have been obvious?
Chapter 1 opens with the explanation for the title, BLUE NIGHTS, something only recently pointed out to me, a native Californian accustomed to the quick drop of the sun into an even briefer twilight. “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. This period of blue nights does not occur in subtropcial California, where I lived for much of the time I will be talking about here and where the end of daylight is fast and lost in the blaze of the dropping sun…To the English it was the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour---carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through shadows…”
Writing doesn’t get much better. The book isn't for everyone. I highly recommend it.