The couple had just returned from visiting their daughter, Quintana, at New York-Cornell Hospital where she lay in a medically induced coma after a horrible flu turned into pneumonia.
As a way of meticulously sorting through her spousal grief, Didion wrote the 2005 memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking.” By the time it had been imagined, written, and published to National Book Award acclaim, Quintana had been a patient in four ICU’s, and four hospitals between two coasts. Twenty months after her father, Quintana died of an infection at the age of thirty-nine.
“Blue Nights” is intended to be Quintana’s story: a spare, powerful and precise account about a loss that is so intense, the reader wants to flinch.
The title refers to “…the gloaming, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour—carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening…This book is called “Blue Nights because at the time I began it I found my mind turning increasing to illness, to the end of promise, the dwindling of the days, the inevitability of…fading, the dying of…brightness.”
Didion is a wordsmith-maestro but, during her pages of recall, she clubs her conscience unnecessarily. “Blue Nights” partially achieves what a competent therapist would recommend to a similarly distressed patient: confront the problem, honestly. However, sometimes Didion proffers reflections, re-interpretations and “renovations” of memory that seem overly critical of her parenting skills. And, because of it the book is occasionally adulterated by Didion Doubt.
Was I the problem? Was I always the problem?
Did I all her life keep a baffle between us?
Did I prefer not to hear what she was actually saying?
Did it frighten me?
How could I have missed what was so clearly there to be seen?
Unanswerable questions, and so the solution for the author has been to craft a kind of momentum-in-her-life that began with the promotion of “The Year of Magical Thinking”; then, a stage adaptation of it, succeeded by a well-received Vanessa-Redgrave-in-the-Lead Broadway run.
Not surprisingly, these twin traumatic tragedies cause Didion a plethora of health ailments: an undiagnosed bleed, a theoretical aneurysm that is determined to be non-threatening, loss of balance, frailty, an unsure memory, a first-time-in-her-life lack of confidence in ability to write, whippet-like thinness and—hopelessness.
The saddest moment in this account occurs when Didion, sitting in a freezing doctor’s waiting room, is “trying to think of the name and telephone number of the person I want notified in case of emergency.”
Usually, one is either lonely or alone, but Didion appears to inhabit each state—simultaneously–for long intervals. Without immediate family and accustomed-to-love, relief appears to come only from her memorably, brilliant art.