An autobiography about death and grief is typically not the first book I'll reach for off the shelf. I hate death more than anything. Who doesn't? But a close family friend is presently dying of bone cancer and I was searching for ... for something. My friend's in hospice, on oxygen, steady morphine drip making him all but incoherent, incommunicado, but for nods and grunts and faint glimpses of that devilish smile that once transformed the most frustrating of days for the people in his life into one feather-light for them on a dime. He probably won't be around come Christmas, if the hospice nurse's blunt prognostications are correct.
That patented style of Didion's, while noticeably more passionate in The Year of Magical Thinking, is understandably even more terse than usual -- terse yet thorough. Without overly brooding on her grief or lingering in the immediate aftermath of Dunne's death, she feels it all, whether it's the coroner's or ER personnel's matter-of-factness (just performing their regular duties like they do everyday, seemingly unaware of the deep chasm of incongruity existing between their unaffected aloofness and Didion's bewildering shock at being abruptly widowed); or contemplating her husband's rather sad last words, considering his dynamic -- equally adept at screenwriting as he was as a novelist, essayist and critic -- professional accomplishments.
|Joan Didion, 2011, by Brigitte Lacombe
I hear her latest memoir, Blue Nights, is even more minimalistic (though no less potent) in its observations on death and grief. Makes sense, as Blue Nights covers the even more torturous terrain of the death of her only child, Quintana Roo Dunne, who also figured prominently in The Year of Magical Thinking, as she was very sick at the time of John Gregory Dunne's passing.
The death of one's spouse. The death of one's child. God, I feel bad for Joan Didion, reading her and what's she's endured, and yet feel encouraged too, reading her memoir, as if I've just gotten off the phone with a dear friend, and am wiping my eyes from the healing tears I've just shed.