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4.1 out of 5 stars
Blue Nights
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 November 2011
Joan Didion's slim memoir "Blue Nights" is mostly about the life and death of her daughter Quintana Roo in 2005, at the age of 39. Quintana's death came after a year and a half of failing health and was preceded by the death of Joan's husband and Quintana's father, John Gregory Dunne, in late 2003. Didion wrote a previous memoir, "The Year of Magical Thinking" about Dunne's sudden death.

As a mother myself, I cannot think of anything worse than a child's death. Nothing. So when writing my review of Joan Didion's book about her adoption, raising, and death of her child, I want to be gentle. The truth as I see it is that perhaps Didion and Dunne ought not have adopted a child. Not all people should be parents; it is one of the toughest thing you can do in life and your thoughts and considerations have to naturally be towards the welfare of the child. Didion mentions that modern parents seem to "helicopter" their children, i.e. micro-manage their lives as the grow up and I wonder if she writes that because she and Dunne seemed to do the opposite and Quintana was fit into their lives as writers and celebrities. There is, of course, a happy medium between "helicoptering" and being fairly lax in child-raising, and I think most of us do try to stay to that medium.

Quintana was adopted at birth in 1966 and given the name of "Quintana Roo", after the area of Mexico that Joan and John loved. That name, that ridiculous name, was probably the worst thing that Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne did to their child. She accompanied them as they lived their lives and they loved her. They didn't always seem to understand her; she was a child, after all, and they gave her what they could of themselves. She grew up, and displayed emotional problems and was given different diagnoses by different doctors as the recognition and lingo of mental disorders changed. Bi-polar, they were told.

Didion also writes about Quintana's reaction to being adopted. Adopted children worry about being given way by their adoptive parents as they were by their birth parents. This is a natural worry and Didion and Dunne tried to deal with it. Then, in her late 20's, Quintana was contacted by her birth sister and "reunited" with that family. It didn't work well and Quintana backed off from those new relationships. Poor Quintana had a life privileged with money, reflected fame, and love, but it didn't seem enough. She died and she left her mother - Joan Didion - alone. And Didion was herself growing older and was becoming enfeebled by age. She's now 75 years old, a famous author, and she's trying to make sense of her mothering and of her daughter's life. Joan Didion and Quintana Roo Dunne deserved to grow old together. Quintana, who married a year or so before her death, deserved a happy life. Was it her parents' fault she didn't have one? There are no guarantees in child-raising and Didion and Dunne did the best they could within their own limitations.

As usual, Joan Didion writes beautifully. I think this book may raise some of the same questions in other readers that I asked myself when reading it. A book that makes you think is always a good thing.
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VINE VOICEon 1 November 2011
'And while I'm away
Dust out the demons inside
And it won't be long before you and me run
To the place in our hearts where we hide
I guess that's why they call it the blues'.
Elton John

Joan Didion has given us her best, she has humbled us with her honesty of her inner world. In this second book after the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne in 2003, after which she wrote 'The Year Of Magical Thinking', her daughter, Quintana Roo, died. How could anyone survive this kind of grief? In 'Magical Thinking' she wrote about her grief and how she coped, but now we know that was just the beginning of her grief. She is now in the midst of her grief for the two beloved people in her life, and does grief ever leave, do you move on and do the memories suffice? Joan Didion shares her experiences.

Joan Didion opens the book talking about the Night Blues. She says, " 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." It is a period of time to get through, and in this case with Quintana Roo, when someone dies, don't dwell on it. Joan was thirty-one when she received the call that a baby girl was ready for adoption. She and her husband rushed to see her, and they knew immediately that she was the one. They had at one time been in Mexico when they noted on a map, these words 'Quintana Roo'. A place, and they were determined to name their daughter if they had one, that exact name. Quintana Roo grew up to be a very precocious young thing. Ready to do the unexpected at any time. She became an adult, her other family, the other parents, found her and she had a relationship of sorts with them for a short time. She realized she was not capable of this type of relationship and it was short lived. She married and within a few months she was in an ICU fighting for her life. She was in a coma, when her father, John Dunne died. Joan told her daughter about her father's death when she awoke from her coma. And, then, within a short period of time Quintana was back in an ICU dying. Joan Didion remembers her daughter in bits and pieces, telling us of their life together. The memories are everywhere, but they are not enough.

Joan Didion tells us, "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 most casual acquaintances; the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them. As the pages progressed it occurred to me that their actual subject was not children after all, at least not children per se, at least not children qua children: their actual subject was this refusal even to engage in such contemplation, this failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, death. This fear." The fear of fragility, the fear of living and the fear of being. Joan wonders, as we all do, was she a good mother, was she enough, did she give her daughter everything she needed? There are no answers, there is only the honesty of her words as she expresses herself. She only knows she misses her daughter, every day, every hour and every minute.

It does not matter from whence we came, we all have the same needs, and we all want our lives to be successful, and our children to carry on. It is not something to bear, that of a parent burying their child. I can only imagine that kind of loss. The fear that Joan Didion speaks to, is the fear for what is still to be lost.

Highly Recommended. prisrob 11-01-11

The Year of Magical Thinking

We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction (Everyman's Library)
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on 7 January 2013
The Year of Magical Thinking was compulsive reading - just could not put it down. And then read it many more times. Disappointed Blue Nights did not have same impact.
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on 28 February 2017
I don't get all the negative reviews about this book regarding how Joan Didion writes about her daughter. I loved reading it and couldn't put it down. I liked the way Didion wove excerpts of poetry, especially Quintana's poem, into the book and I think her portrayal of Quintana was loving and tender. I was surprised that there were identical excerpts from The Year of Magical Thinking, but it makes sense and I enjoyed both books.
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on 8 January 2012
I so loved The Year of Magical Thinking that I bought this book looking forward to another great memoir. Of course, it is terrible to lose a daughter and I can see that the only way to express grief for Didion is to write about it. But this is not a book worthy of her gifts as a writer. It is short but nonetheless rambles and I felt my eyes glazing over every time she named-dropped. I can only refer to what Vivian Gornick showed so well in her book on writing autobiography (Writing the Self ) - great writers don't always write good memoirs.
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on 16 December 2017
Beautiful writing as ever.
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on 27 July 2017
Very moving account of loss
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on 14 November 2014
Didion triumphs again. This memoir is so wonderfully written and candid. I will share it with friends. Anyone who has had bereavements like Didion will learn from this memoir.
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on 30 July 2016
Very touching memoir
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on 14 December 2012
I was expecting to have my heart rung by this book but it left me cold. The author comes across as self obsessed and name dropping. The daughter whom she is supposed to be mourning is not well depicted even as a shadowy figure.
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