Friday, January 18, 2013

Audiobook Review: Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Blue Nights is something of a follow up book to The Year of Magical Thinking, although it can certainly be read on its own.  The Year of Magical Thinking focused on Didion's loss of her husband at a time when her daughter was also gravely ill.  Quintana, Didion's daughter, eventually passed away as a result of that illness.  This memoir deals with the issues surrounding losing a child, but largely explores Quintana's childhood and relationship with her mother.

I enjoyed it just as much as I enjoyed The Year of Magical Thinking.  Didion is obviously a talented writer.  This book, like The Year of Magical Thinking, is engrossing, moving, and the words are beautiful to listen to.  Her regrets as a parent are heartbreaking and her insights into grief are universal.  I found the repetition of themes that seemed to put off other reviewers to be a very truthful way to present the cyclical nature of grief. I thought her style perfectly mirrored her "message" if you will.

Entertainment Value
The book is heartbreaking, but engrossing.  Like The Year of Magical Thinking, it isn't a cheerful book, but it is compulsively relatable.  Another criticism I saw frequently for this book on Goodreads is that Didion isn't a "good" parent, that her failures as a parent make her unlikable, or that she is too pretentious, dropping names and vacations and labels left and right.  All of those criticisms are just ridiculous.

This isn't a manual on how to be a parent.  This is a memoir of loss and regret.  The point of the book is not whether or not you think Joan Didion is a good mother or whether or not you think others should emulate her, the point is her examination of her own failings as a mother and her exploration of grief.  Were this a parenting manual, you may have ground to criticize, but it's not.  Also, yes, Didion is rich and well-connected.  Believe it or not, the wealthy are not immune from suffering.  It makes sense that you will recognize the names of her acquaintances and friends, as Didion is a well-respected writer whose friends are naturally other writers.

It's the same problem that I think plagues Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of A Tiger Mother.  Neither of these books are meant to make a statement about the quality of parenting or a recommendation for a certain parenting style.  They are personal stories of what the author did, whether or not those actions were likable.  Your disagreement with the author's choices should not impact your assessment of the quality or entertainment value of the book.  I just don't understand this logic.

I loved the narrator of The Year of Magical Thinking and was hoping she would also narrate Blue Nights, but unfortunately they chose someone else.  This narrator wasn't bad, and I got used to her voice, but it sounded too young for me.  I couldn't imagine her as Joan Didion the way I could with the original narrator.

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't a big fan of TYoMT...I don't know why but I just didn't emotionally connect well. I've been wondering if I should pick up this book since I figured out it was a sorta sequel to TYoMT.