I’ll make a confession. I’m not much of a non-fiction reader. I’d like to blame it on years of schooling and having to read text books, millions of articles and essays and assigned non-fiction books but really I think it’s just because I like to escape into a good piece of fiction. Luckily for me writers like Joan Didion manage to keep me looking for both their fiction and non-fiction works so I don’t feel like I’m totally missing out.
Joan Didion’s newest book Blue Nights was recently released and if you’re not on the waiting list for this book, add your name and get ready for stellar writing. Blue Nights is a memoir as well as an elegy to her only child Quintana Roo who passed away just a few years after the sudden death of Joan’s husband, writer John Gregory Dunne. John’s death and Joan’s reaction and exploration of his death are examined in her book, The Year of Magical Thinking. Knowing that Joan Didion would eventually need write about the loss of her daughter, I have been waiting to see how she will turn this very personal grief into an insightful and thought provoking work that goes beyond the telling of the loss of a child.
When I began writing these pages, I believed their subject to be children: the ones we have and the ones we wish we had, the ways in which we depend on our children to depend on us, the ways in which we encourage them to remain children, the ways in which they remain more unknown to us than they do to their most casual acquaintances, the ways in which we remain equally opaque to them, the ways in which our investments in each other remain too freighted ever to see the other clear, the ways in which neither we nor they can bear to contemplate the death or the illness or even the aging of the other.
As the pages progressed, it occurred to me that the actual subject was not children at all, at least not children per se, at least not children qua children. Their actual subject was this refusal even to engage in this contemplation, this failure to confront the certainties of aging, illness, death, this fear.