Friday, December 9, 2011

Blue Nights

I read this in one day because I couldn't help myself. I have always been seduced by Didion's style. I wanted to be under the spell of her hypnotic use of repetitive phrases as she described the loss of her daughter at age 39.  I imagine I am not alone in this sad sorority of mothers who have experienced the death of a child in being eager to read the latest report from the front lines,especially coming from such a fine writer as Joan Didion. Her memoir about the death of her husband said so many things so well about the rather common event of widowhood that I was hoping for something extraordinary when it came time to describe that unnatural event of surviving your child. How much is left unsaid in this book!  We receive snippets of things Quintana Roo did and said when she was five, and fourteen, and how she prepared for her wedding when she was thirty seven.   I was hoping for more, a portrait of a beloved daughter, but it is all mixed up with the heartache of the bereaved. When it comes to those eerie feelings upon discovering all of the items saved for her child (now who will inherit this?!.) though she is quite splendid.

Five years had passed since she picked up her pen to write about it.  Is it that we have so much in common that I read her account?  My daughter also died five years ago.  No, her details are so different from my solidly middle class life. Didion exists in a class I never belonged to.  As a writer, she has lived with her husband as a significant player with all the accoutrements that go with that status. Her tone is not snobby, though.
Even though I read the book hungrily, in one or two big bites, the repetitions began to wear on me.  The mention of the exclusive make of China and linens, the names of the hotels in Paris and Honolulu-- these were not gratuitously given, but still, it is a bit much.  One can grow tired of a sad book in which all the places and people and things come with such an extremely high pedigree.

In the end, though what is saddest is the sound of Didion  losing her vitality, her willingness to go on, and who can blame her?  Her obituary will be full of accomplishments.  She doesn't need to do one more blessed thing to prove herself, and she has lost the two people most dear to her. />
Still, I wish she would return to her reporting of things other than herself.  She is capable of a great expose on medicine as it is practiced in hospitals, or the politics of the Republican Party. No matter how world weary Didion sounds, she is still very much among us.

In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue.  This period of the blue nights does not occur in subtropical California, where I lived for much of the time I will be talking about here and where the end of the daylight is fast and lost in the blaze of the dropping sun, but it does occur in New York, where I now live.  You notice it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming—in fact not at all a warming –yet suddenly summer seems near, a possibility, even a promise.  You pass a window, you walk to Central  Park, you find yourself swimming in the color blue: the actual light is blue, and over the course of an hour or so this blue deepens, becomes more intense even as it darkens and fades, approximates finally the blue of the glass on a clear day at Chartres, or that of Cerenkov radiation thrown off by the fuel rods in the pools of nuclear reactors.  The French call this time of the day, “l’heure bleue.”  To the English it was the “gloaming.”  The very word “gloaming” reverberates,  echoes—the gloaming, the glimmer, the glitter, the glisten, the glamour—carrying in its consonants the images of houses shuttering, gardens darkening, grass-lined rivers slipping through the shadows.  During the blue nights you think the end of the day will never come.  As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone. 

--from the opening page of Blue Nights


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