Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Loss has pursued author Didion relentlessly, and in this subtly crushing memoir about the untimely death of her daughter, Quintana Roo (1966–2005), coming on the heels of The Year of Magical Thinking, which chronicled the sudden death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, Didion again turns face forward to the harsh truth. 'When we talk about mortality we are talking about our children,' she writes, groping her way backward through painful memories of Quintana Roo's life, from her recent marriage in 2003 to adorable moments of childhood moving about California in the 1970s with her worldly parents and learning early on cues about how to grow up fast. While her parents were writing books, working on location for movies, and staying in fancy hotels, Quintana Roo developed 'depths and shallows,' as her mother depicts in her elliptically dark fashion, later diagnosed as 'borderline personality disorder'; while Didion does not specify what exactly caused Quintana's repeated hospitalizations and coma at the end of her life, the author seems to suggest it was a kind of death wish, about which Didion feels guilt, not having heeded the signs early enough. Her own health she writes at age 75 is increasingly frail, and she is obsessed with falling down and being an invalid. Yet Didion continually demonstrates her keen survival instincts, and her writing is, as ever, truculent and mesmerizing, scrutinizing herself as mercilessly as she stares down death." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A haunting memoir...Didion is, to my mind, the best living essayist in America... What appears on the surface to be an elegantly, intelligently, deeply felt, precisely written story of the loss of a beloved child is actually an elegantly, intelligently, deeply felt, precisely written glimpse into the abyss, a book that forces us to understand, to admit, that there can be no preparation for tragedy, no protection from it, and so, finally, no consolation...The book has... an incantatory quality: it is a beautiful, soaring, polyphonic eulogy, a beseeching prayer the is sung even as one knows the answer to one's plea, and that answer is: No." The New York Review of Books
"Blue Nights, though as elegantly written as one would expect, is rawer than its predecessor, the 'impenetrable polish' of former, better days now chipped and scratched. The author as she presents herself here, aging and baffled, is defenseless against the pain of loss, not only the loss of loved ones but the loss that is yet to come: the loss, that is, of selfhood. The book will be another huge success... Certainly as a testament of suffering nobly borne, which is what it will be generally taken for, it is exemplary. However, it is most profound, and most provocative, at another level, the level at which the author comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life's worst onslaughts nothing avails, not even art; especially not art." The New York Times Book Review
"The master of American prose turns her sharp eye on her own family once again in this breathtaking follow-up to The Year of Magical Thinking. With harrowing honesty and mesmerizing style, Didion chronicles the tragic death of her daughter, Quintana, interwoven with memories of their happier days together and Didion's own meditations on aging." Newsweek
"A searing memoir." People
"Darkly riveting....The cumulative effect of watching her finger her recollections like beads on a rosary is unexpectedly instructive. None of us can escape death, but Blue Nights shows how Didion has, with the devastating force of her penetrating mind, learned to simply abide." Elle
"A scalpel-sharp memoir of motherhood and loss...Now coping with not only grief and regret but also illness and age, Didion is courageous in both her candor and artistry, ensuring that this infinitely sad yet beguiling book of distilled reflections and remembrance is graceful and illuminating in its blue musings." Booklist
From a former Poet Laureate, a new collection of essays delivering a gloriously unexpected view from the vantage point of very old age
From a former Poet Laureate, a new collection of essays delivering a gloriously unexpected view from the vantage point of very old age Donald Hall has lived a remarkable life of letters, a career capped by a National Medal of the Arts, awarded by the president. Now, in the “unknown, unanticipated galaxy” of very old age, he is writing searching essays that startle, move, and delight. In the transgressive and horrifyingly funny “No Smoking,” he looks back over his lifetime, and several of his ancestors lifetimes, of smoking unfiltered cigarettes, packs of them every day. Hall paints his past: “Decades followed each other — thirty was terrifying, forty I never noticed because I was drunk, fifty was best with a total change of life, sixty extended the bliss of fifty . . .” And, poignantly, often joyfully, he limns his present: “When I turned eighty and rubbed testosterone on my chest, my beard roared like a lion and gained four inches.” Most memorably, Hall writes about his enduring love affair with his ancestral Eagle Pond Farm and with the writing life that sustains him, every day: “Yesterday my first nap was at 9:30 a.m., but when I awoke I wrote again.”
About the Author
Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California, and now lives in New York City. She is the author of five novels and eight previous books of nonfiction. Her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, was published by Everyman's Library in 2006.