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Blue Nights, Joan Didion, Alfred A Knopf, 2011, 188 pp
I went into this book prepared to have trouble with it. It took me close to three years to get over my Mom's death. I have not ever lost a child, despite two close calls. I just did not feel ready to read a book about mourning. I read it for a reading group.
Instead, I fell in love with Joan Didion. Here is a woman who has lived a long life, mostly in her mind. She has achieved respect, a good income, some say notoriety, by the use of her intellect. She had a long and happy marriage with a soul mate. Now she has lost the husband, followed by her adopted daughter who suffered a long illness.
No matter what opinions people may hold about Joan Didion, she has done a lot of living: the highs, the lows, the hard work, the celebrations, and the day-to-day. She is still going in her mid-seventies, still writing her way through her life.
The writing in Blue Nights is perfect for the subjects addressed. It is filled with finely wrought images. She meanders the way memory does with no loss of her signature control. What might be somewhat new is the degree of emotion displayed, never maudlin or self-pitying, but the product of a search deep into her self. Doubts about her suitability for motherhood, failings as a mother, and anxiety over her future run through the pages like a dirge. Yet her pride in that daughter flares like a beacon through the gloom.
I will turn 65 this summer. I don't care what they say about 65 is the new 45 or any such blather. The fact is that I am fortunate to be healthy and fairly fit but my "elderly" years are just around the corner. I have no desire to live past the time when I am still healthy and fit; to be in the hands of doctors; to linger in less than a condition of having my full faculties. I see in the women ten years or more ahead of me that either it comes on gradually or there is a sudden decline.
As I read about Ms Didion's experiences with all this, I felt a sisterhood with her. Fears of walking the streets of New York alone, of falling, of living by herself, are possibly worse outcomes for such a woman than losing the two most important people in her life. Oh my, oh my.
(Blue Nights is available in hardcover, paperback, and Google eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)