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Blue Nights by Joan Didion
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Feb 14, 12

Read in February, 2012

This small book fits easily in one hand allowing the reader to hold a tea cup in the other, to put down the tea cup and pull at her hair or pinch her cheek, to read another chapter or two and then to put down both tea cup and small book and walk through the house looking at pictures of her children and her parents and her grandchildren and yes, her nephew and niece. Returning to her chair, the reader finds the small book has not left its spot, has not become a bad dream, as the loss of a child does not disappear when one awakens.

Didion's pain is so palpable that it springs from the page and forms a tight band around the reader's head, a tightness in her throat. Didion's honesty in describing her utter naivety as a young mother matches that shared only by the closest of friends. Her recognition of her perhaps infrequent insensitivity to her daughter is breathtaking. The description of her response to her daughter's coming death, disbelief changing to belief, is spare, realistic, shattering. One cannot read these short chapters without sharing the pain, the grief. As Didion narrates the gradual slow process by which she came to know, if not accept, Quintana's death, so too does she paint her own unwilling acknowledgment (I cannot say acceptance) of her own mortality.

Yet, like another reviewer, at times I wanted to shake Didion, to ask her to tell me more about Quintana, the beautiful daughter who died so early. I'm sure Quintana has a much richer story that than that told here. When Didion remembers her daughter's including "Brush your teeth, brush your hair, shush I'm working" in her list of Mom's sayings, I want to remind her that she was not the only working mom during the 1970's. When Didion writes, "All adopted children, I am told, fear that they will be abandoned by their adoptive parents as they believe themselves to have been abandoned by their natural," I want to challenge her, to suggest that she has visited one too many therapists, to insist that all of us, not only adoptees, have insecurities.

It is Didion's honesty that encourages me to want to engage her, to share my own experiences, doubts and fears, to argue with her. The title metaphor, blue nights, will stay with me, as will her admission that the mementos she has stored "serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here." Didion's gift to her readers is to remind us to appreciate all of the moments we are given.

Euripides: "What greater grief can there be for mortals than to see their children dead?"
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