Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Blue Nights by Joan Didion.....

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I know it may appear that ALL I've been doing lately is reading book after book, and that is only PARTLY true. I've also been playing Words with Friends not only with friends, but with random opponents from the Internet. I sometimes latch onto things... One of my games today was with someone I'm pretty sure was a 7-year-old girl, and I know I should feel guilty about beating her 252 to 96 (or something similar), but I'm just competitive enough not to feel bad at all. I made two 7-letter words back-to-back (that's never happened before in the history of mankind), and I was going for the jugular. Please recommend a good, cheap, nearby therapist.

But I digress.

I have been doing more reading than I did when I was teaching (did I mention I'm retired now? ha ha), but a couple of the books have also been relatively short ones.

Blue Nights was another of the books in the Summer Reading list that appeared in The New Yorker. Out of all the ones of those that I've read so far, this is the one that I almost put down without finishing.

First of all, I didn't know Joan Didion from my next door neighbor (in fact, I know a little bit more about Joan, since I at least know her name), and I didn't realize this book was a sort of memoir. How much is too much to know about a book before one begins reading it? I don't typically read book reviews, even AFTER I've read it. I don't want to risk having missed the whole of the book's meaning and feel stupid. I certainly don't read reviews BEFORE I've read a book, because I either feel obligated to love the book or hate it, depending on the style, voice, and reputation of the reviewer.

The part that made me almost put the book down was a long section of questions. I don't know if I would classify them as "rhetorical" questions, but they went on for so long that I started looking for answers. Even if I had to use a cheat sheet.

The style was almost stream-of-consciousness, and sometimes that's too untidy for me. I don't want the story to be formulaic or predictable, but occasionally it needs to go in a straight line without looping around and around and back and forth.

The theme of the book is the author's efforts to cope with the death of her daughter, close on the heels of the death of her husband, and her introspection about a parent's love for a child and the whole process of aging. I'm afraid I'm not saying this very well.

Another thing I didn't like about the book was the fact that I never could figure out exactly how her daughter died. She had been diagnosed with both manic depression and borderline personality disorder, so I wondered if she committed suicide. The author mentioned multiple stays in ICU units, so I thought perhaps there were multiple suicide attempts. A review I read after I started this blog post, however, said she was hospitalized once with a viral infection that turned into pneumonia, from which she recovered, and then she fell ill with acute pancreatitis, from which she did not recover. (The review was from The New York Times, so I tend to trust the research.)

I realize it's a memoir and the author could choose how much to disclose. She is up front from the beginning about the fact that her daughter was adopted, but it is unclear why. I don't mean I need to know in intricate detail a couple's efforts to reproduce normally, but she tells just enough of it to be confusing. She says she was at a party on a boat when she mentioned to a friend that she and her husband were trying to have a baby, and the friend says (paraphrasing), "Oh, you should talk to Dr. ______, he's here tonight, he can get you a baby." Maybe it wasn't integral to the story (obviously it wasn't to her, and it is, after all, her story), but it made me feel like I hadn't been trusted with the whole story.

I don't mean to sound so negative. It wasn't a heart-warming story by any means, but I may also read the memoir she wrote after the death of her husband, The Year of Magical Thinking. First, though, I need to give my brain a rest with something more lighthearted.

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