cover image Blue Nights

Blue Nights

Joan Didion. Knopf, $25.00 (208p) ISBN 978-0-307-26767-2

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.)