Monday, March 19, 2012

Good Question

Trying to figure out something to say about this book, I scrolled through the customer reviews on Website-That-Will-Not-Be-Named, and I was surprised to find the biggest complaint people had about the memoir was it's disjointed, nebulous nature. A few people who gave the book only one or two stars said they enjoyed Didion's other work, but felt perhaps she was too close to the reality of this story to really tell it correctly and succinctly.
For those of you that don't know, Joan Didion's newest book, Blue Nights, is the disjointed, nebulous autobiographical narrative about her daughter, Quintana Roo, who died unexpectedly at the age of 39. The book is at once easy to read and extraordinarily difficult; for me, reading Didion's prose is not so much reading as it is listening to a cool voice speak inside my head. I see her thoughts so clearly, through whatever magic it is she wields; maybe we are just cosmic brethren, I'm not sure, but I am certainly stricken by it. However, it is this same cool voice that can also reach inside your heart and crush the dust out of it. In talking about the memories and death of her daughter (and husband, for that matter), one can visualize with crystalline detail her pain and confusion, her resolution in being the last remaining member of her family.

So what I would have to ask those people on WTWNBN, is, how else does one tell a story about that? What memories can you consult that will not lead you down a meandering path of recollection? I know it is an author's job to wrangle time and space into a consumable a form, but how can you when the nature of your despair is almost unnameable? Didion peppers her book with details; specific names of flowers, playmates, luxurious vacation spots and the layout of each house stayed in. These names and experiences jump around in time; Quintana is occasionally in her 20's, but it's not long before she is wearing a plaid school girl jumper and disappearing down a hill on her own. 

Memory is not stored in sequence. Could Didion have written this book any other way, and should she have? This book might not be about the shared experience of losing the person of Quintana Roo, but about Didion's experience of losing her daughter, and the process by which she continues to exist on earth without being crippled by woe. Didion discusses her own frailty, her owning aging as well, citing several doctors she visits and ailments she collects after she turns 75. This is also a story about her, about entropy. I suppose what my real question is, how do you detail a life, and then how do you detail the experience of mourning that life?

I don't know. It's a good question.

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