Monday, February 17, 2014

Staff Pick - Blue Nights by Joan Didion The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion (M), with great emotion, described an event that will one day be familiar to one partner of all couples. One day you will lose that partner and your life will go on. Didion's husband John Gregory Dunne died in front of her one day at the dinner table and her memoir became her way of processing this loss.

Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
"The ordeal began on Christmas 2003 when Didion and her husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, learn that their daughter, Quintana Roo, is in intensive care with severe pneumonia and septic shock. Five grim days later, Dunne and Didion come home from the hospital, sit down to dinner, and Dunne suffers "a sudden massive coronary event" and dies. Married for 40 years and sharing a passion for literature, they were inordinately close. But Didion could not give herself over to grief: Quintana's health went from bad to worse as she developed a life-threatening hematoma on her brain. She survived, and Didion had the wherewithal to cope: "In times of trouble, I had been trained since childhood, read, learn, work it up, go the literature. Information was control." So she researches grief, schools herself in her daughter's medical conditions, and monitors the flux of flashbacks and fears that strobe through her mind. Didion describes with compelling precision exactly how grief feels, and how it impairs rational thought and triggers "magical thinking." The result is a remarkably lucid and ennobling anatomy of grief, matched by a penetrating tribute to marriage, motherhood, and love." Booklist few year later her daughter Quintana Roo was to succumb to pancreatitis and die at the age of 39 - an unthinkable event for any parent. In Blue Nights (M) Didion once again explores her grief and examines her memories of Quintana's childhood asking herself repeatedly if she loved her daughter enough. Any reader would agree that she of course had loved her enough. Quintana Roo was adopted as an infant and grew up the the privileged company of Hollywood insiders. Didion bristles at the word privileged in connection with her daughter's childhood, but what other word can you use to describe the child's designer clothes, posh restaurants and hotels, and famous friends. Quintana was a precocious and anxious child, leaving her mother to wonder after her death if she feared abandonment as surely all adopted children do. Quintana struggled as an adult as well with mental health issues and self-medication and Didion, as I'm sure any parent would in the same situation, doubts that she was ever competent to care for this child. Her fears will never be assuaged and the reader feels sad for her.

And in another literary exploration of grief and loss, there is Must You Go: my life with Harold Pinter (M) by Antonia Fraser."When Antonia Fraser met Harold Pinter she was a celebrated biographer and he was Britain's finest playwright. Both were already married - Pinter to the actress Vivien Merchant and Fraser to the politician Hugh Fraser - but their union seemed inevitable from the moment they met: 'I would have found you somehow', Pinter told Fraser. Their relationship flourished until Pinter's death on Christmas Eve 2008 and was a source of delight and inspiration to them both until the very end. Fraser uses her Diaries and her own recollections to tell a touching love story. But this is also a memoir of a partnership between two of the greatest literary talents, with fascinating glimpses into their creativity and their illustrious circle of friends from the literary, political and theatrical world." publisher

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