Blue Nights

Blue Nights

3.9 49
by Joan Didion
     
 

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A New York Times Notable Book

From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter.

Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts,

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Overview

A New York Times Notable Book

From one of our most powerful writers, a work of stunning frankness about losing a daughter.

Richly textured with memories from her own childhood and married life with her husband, John Gregory Dunne, and daughter, Quintana Roo, this new book by Joan Didion is an intensely personal and moving account of her thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness and growing old.

As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions that all parents face, and contemplates her 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 profound.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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. (Nov.)
Library Journal
In The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion wrote about her reaction to the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. Here she addresses the death shortly thereafter of her 39-year-old daughter, Quintana, who died of complications from pneumonia. Adopted at birth and apprised of this at a young age, Quintana had feelings of abandonment her entire life. Didion wonders here whether her handling of her daughter's early years contributed to those feelings and generally questions her suitability as a parent. At the same time, she discusses her own attempts to cope with aging and the onset of frailty. Didion's spare style of writing gets right to the point. She ponders Quintana's utterances and writings to try to better understand her and how she herself might have responded differently, but ultimately, there are no answers. VERDICT This worthwhile meditation on parenting and aging by a succinct writer, while at times difficult to read and a bit self-centered, is well worth the emotional toll. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/11.]—Gina Kaiser, Univ. of the Sciences Lib., Philadelphia
Kirkus Reviews

Didion (We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction, 2006, etc.) delivers a second masterpiece on grief, considering both her daughter's death and her inevitable own.

In her 2005 book,The Year of Magical Thinking, the much-decorated journalist laid bare her emotions following the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. The same year that book was published, she also lost her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, after a long hospitalization. Like Magical Thinking, this bookis constructed out of close studies of particular memories and bits of medical lingo. Didion tests Quintana's childhood poems and scribblings for hints of her own failings as a mother, and she voices her helplessness at the hands of doctors. "I put the word 'diagnosis' in quotes because I have not yet seen that case in which a 'diagnosis' led to a 'cure,' " she writes. The author also ponders her own mortality, and she does so with heartbreaking specificity. A metal folding chair, as she describes it, is practically weaponized, ready to do her harm should she fall out of it; a fainting spell leaves her bleeding and helpless on the floor of her bedroom. Didion's clipped, recursive sentences initially make the book feel arid and emotionally distant. But she's profoundly aware of tone and style—a digression about novel-writing reveals her deep concern for the music sentences make—and the chapters become increasingly freighted with sorrow without displaying sentimentality. The book feels like an epitaph for both her daughter and herself, as she considers how much aging has demolished her preconceptions about growing old.

A slim, somber classic.

Michiko Kakutani
Ms. Didion's heartbreaking new book…is at once a loving portrait of Quintana and a mother's conflicted effort to grapple with her grief through words: the medium the author has used throughout her life to try to make sense of the senseless. It is a searing inquiry into loss and a melancholy meditation on mortality and time.
—The New York Times
Heller McAlpin
Blue Nights is a devastating companion volume to Magical Thinking, a beautiful condolence note to humanity about some of the painful realities of the human condition that deserves to be printed on traditional black-bordered mourning stationery…The marvel of Blue Nights is that its 76-year-old, matchstick-frail author has found the strength to articulate her deepest fears—which are fears we can all relate to.
—The Washington Post
John Banville
[Blue Nights], no less than [The Year of Magical Thinking], is honest, unflinching, necessarily solipsistic and, in the way of these things, self-lacerating…Certainly as a testament of suffering nobly borne, which is what it will be generally taken for, it is exemplary. However, [Blue Nights] 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
From the Publisher
“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.”
—Cathleen Schine, 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.”
—John Banville, The New York Times Book Review
 
"The marvel of Blue Nights is that its 76-year-old, matchstick-frail author has found the strength to articulate her deepest fears—which are fears we can all relate to."
—Heller McAlpin, The Wasthington Post

The Week magazine's 5 Best Non-Fiction Books of 2011

“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.”
—Malcolm Jones and Lucas Wittmann, 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.”
—Louisa Kamps, 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.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Brilliant...Nothing Didion has written since Play It As It Lays seems to me as right and true as Blue Nights. Nothing she has written seems as purposeful and urgent to be told."
—Joe Woodward, Huffington Post

“[Didion] often finds captivating, unparalleled grooves. Her expansive thinking…is particularly striking.”
            —The A. V. Club

“The reader only senses how intimately she understands her instrument. Her sentences are unquestionably taut, rhythmic and precise.”
                —Time Out NY

"A searing, incisive look at grief and loss by one of the most celebrated memoirists of our time."
—Relevant Magazine

"Both Fascinating and heartbreaking."
—Marie Claire

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307267672
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
11/01/2011
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.58(w) x 8.14(h) x 0.84(d)

Read an Excerpt

Blue Nights


By Joan Didion

Random House Large Print

Copyright © 2011 Joan Didion
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780739378434

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 the blue nights does not occur in subtropical 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, but it does occur in New York, where I now live. You notice it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming—in fact not at all a warming—yet suddenly summer seems near, a possibility, even a promise. You pass a window, you walk to Central Park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue: the actual light is blue, and over the course of an hour or so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades, approximates finally the blue of the glass on a clear day at Chartres, or that of the Cerenkov radiation thrown off by the fuel rods in the pools of nuclear reactors. The French called this time of day “l’heure bleue.” To the English it was “the gloaming.” The very word “gloaming” reverberates, echoes— 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 the shadows. During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone. This book is called “Blue Nights” because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasingly to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of the fading, the dying of the brightness.
Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.



From the Hardcover edition.

Continues...

Excerpted from Blue Nights by Joan Didion Copyright © 2011 by Joan Didion. Excerpted by permission of Random House Large Print, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

“Incantatory.... A beautiful condolence note to humanity about some of the painful realities of the human condition.” —The Washington Post
 
“Heartbreaking.... A searing inquiry into loss and a melancholy mediation on mortality and time.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“Joan Didion is a brilliant observer, a powerful thinker, a writer whose work has been central to the times in which she has lived. Blue Nights continues her legacy.” —The Boston Globe

“Exemplary...provocative.... [Didion] 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.” —John Banville, The New York Times Book Review
 
“A beautiful, soaring, polyphonic eulogy.... 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 New York Review of Books
 
“Profoundly moving.... This is first and last a meditation on mortality.” —San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Ms. Didion has translated the sad hum of her thoughts into a profound meditation on mortality. The result aches with a wisdom that feels dreadfully earned.” —The Economist
 
“For the great many of us who cherish Joan Didion, who can never get enough of her voice and her brilliant, fragile, endearing, pitiless persona, [Blue Nights] is a gift.” —Newsday
 
“Exquisite.... She applies the same rigorous standards of research and meticulous observation to her own life that she expects from herself in journalism. And to get down to the art of what she does, her sense of form is as sharp as a glass-cutter’s, and her sentences fold back on themselves and come out singing in a way that other writers can only wonder at and envy.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books
 
“Ms. Didion has created something luminous amid her self-recrimination and sorrow. It’s her final gift to her daughter—one that only she could give.” —Wall Street Journal
 
“Didion’s bravest work. It is a bittersweet look back at what she’s lost, and an unflinching assessment of what she has left.” —BookPage
 
“Yes, this is a book about aging and about loss. Mostly, though, it is about what one parent and child shared—and what all parents and children share, the intimacy of what bring you closer and what splits you apart.” —Oprah.com
 
“Haunting.” —Entertainment Weekly
 
“Breathtaking.... 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
 
“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
 
“In this supremely tender work of memory, Didion is paradoxically insistent that as long as one person is condemned to remember, there can still be pain and loss and anguish.” —Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair

“Didion’s latest memoir unflinchingly reflects on old age and the tragedy of her daughter’s death.”
—Best New Paperbacks, Entertainment Weekly

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