To love and to lose is an experience universal to humankind. None among us will leave this earth having evaded the sorrow of losing someone dear to the ravages of time, or illness, or death. As such, the stories we tell are woven with the fibers of this loss. It would be easy, then, for an author to fall into well-worn metaphors—the heartache, the disbelief, the loved one as an ever present specter preserved in memory. Yet somehow in Blue Nights, Joan Didion addresses all of these themes without pandering to familiar clichés of grief.
Having established herself as a preeminent voice on mourning with The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir chronicling the sudden loss of her husband, Didion crafts yet another searing portrait of her daughter Quintana Roo’s premature death in Blue Nights. She is unapologetic in dismantling the comfortable platitudes often associated with loss, instead declaring the bitter truth at hand with the incisiveness that has come to characterize her writing. She recalls the reactions of friends and acquaintances following her daughter’s death: “‘You have your wonderful memories,’ people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories are not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone . . . Memories are what you no longer want to remember.” Didion indicates that sometimes there are moments in the depths of darkness from which no silver lining can be extracted—and that’s okay. For anyone who has experienced loss, this assertion is catharsis and affirmation and enlightenment.