by Joan Didion
Alfred A. Knopf (e-book)
'What greater grief can there be for mortals than to see their children dead.' That observation, by Euripides, appears in Blue Nights, a heartrending book by Joan Didion that envelops readers in the memories left by her daughter Quintana Roo Dunne, who succumbed in 2005 to pneumonia and septic shock. Didion, who has also written about her husband's unexpected passing, shortly before that of Quintana, their adopted child, doesn't care to hide the obsessive repetition of thoughts that can be part of bereavement. Indeed, she repeats sentences verbatim, even anecdotes, and fleeting recollections, such as that of the white stephanotis Quintana wove into her hair on her wedding day, just months before she fell ill. Such images, indeed large tracts of the book, have an unsettling sepia wash that removes the subject from the present. However, the past is relived every day, in every closet: 'There is no drawer I can open without seeing something I do not want, on reflection, to see,' writes Didion, referring to clothes and other mementoes.