The Year of Magical Thinking was my introduction to Joan Didion. Part of the heartbreak of that memoir (the subject of which was grieving a lost husband) was knowing that by the time the book was published, their daughter would also have died. Blue Nights talks about Quintana.
Didion suggests in the book that this isn’t exactly what she meant to write. (And the people on the Internet that have written about it don’t seem to agree on its subject, either.) I suggest that it is about finding/maintaining/regaining one’s equilibrium. She uses something akin to stream of consciousness (without the annoying punctuation issues) in her storytelling and goes back to certain lines to illustrate the themes. Actually, it isn’t stream of consciousness – she tells a complete story. She completes many of her thoughts. She just bounces about a lot before returning to a main thread.
She talks about adoption. She talks about aging. About aging alone. About the “comfort” of memories – and living in an apartment crammed with mementos she can’t bear to look at or to throw away. I can positively feel her trying to sort it all out.
“Blue Nights” refers to the evenings right around the summer solstice where evenings seem very blue, rather than black. I’ve only particularly noticed them in the last couple of years in the backyard with the dogs. But when she writes about having missed them one year when she was in diagnostic hell, I understood the sadness.
Another moment that resonated was toward the end. She was talking about a hospital wanting an emergency contact, and she had trouble naming one. Husband gone, daughter gone. Most family on the other coast. Other family and friends travel heavily.
At seventy-something years old, who is her person?
Finally, as she noted the date of Quintana’s death – August 26, 2005 – I realized that today was the anniversary. I hope she can find some peace.