‘You notice as it first as April ends and May begins, a change in the season, not exactly a warming —in fact not at all a warming— yet suddenly summer ends near, a possibility, even a promise’. When those blue nights are finished is not anymore a warming but a warning of darkness, of solitude, of silence. This is how Joan Didion explains the title of her book, it is an opening to a heart wrenching story. The story of a mother who sees her own child die, slowly, painfully, in an ICU for twenty months. This is a story in which Didion also analyses carefully and to the detail whether her daughter showed signs of dying, emotionally dying, way before, and her own involvement as a mother in such a cruel destiny.
Joan Didion saw a lot of her dear friends die on an ICU. Diane, her best friend, Natacha Richardson, wife of Liam Neeson and her husband and John Gregory Dunne, only one year before her own daughter. But this book is about Quintana Roo, which name she and her husband took from a trip to Mexico, before Quintana Roo was a crowded tourist destination. It is a beautiful name though. She passed for a lack of oxygen after twenty months struggling with a pneumonia turned wrong in every sense.
‘Brush your teeth, brush your hair, sush I’m working’. Joan Didion looks in this book for her own responsibility, if there is any. Are we responsible for the fate of our children, even in those events that clearly state we couldn’t do anything after or before? Didion implies that maybe we are. She examines her own behaviour as a mother, her decisions, her mistakes. It is a fact that she regretted some actions of the past. She was a busy writer. Most days she worked long nights. Sometimes, many times, she could not concentrate on her daughter needs. Sometimes, many times, her daughter tried to get her attention, she did not understand the signals: The poem. That Quintana wrote, 2,1,2 people in her home. Not 3, never 3. The pictures: She did not focused on Quintana’s expressions of sadness as a child, she did not see them. Only when Quintana died she saw them. The diagnosis: ‘borderline personality disorder’. The consequences: Extreme depression and drinking.
The origins, as Didion stated, was that Quintana was an adopted child. A child whose biological mother abandoned at St. John’s hospital with the intention —written in paper— to never see her again, and yet, she was ‘found’ by her biological sister years after, putting into motion a second abandonment. Quintana was also a perceptive child, very aware of herself and her surroundings. She panicked easily. Didion remembers then a Christmas night when she and her husband arrived from the movies only to find Quintana on the stairs waiting for them to notify she had cancer. It was nothing. I found strange that Quintana was alone with her grandmother on Christmas eve. Didion did not reflect on this. Those were other times. But she made an analysis of what went wrong with Quintana’s drinking. She blamed her diagnosis and the fact that she was an adoptive child. She also blamed the fact that she and her family and friends used to drink a lot, all the time. She made a subtle reference to her long working hours and her family gatherings. Again, those were other times.
And there she was, again on an ICU, watching Quintana die. The description of the actual facts, the history of Quintana, the history and present of the author and how everything is mixed in a single story is absolutely marvellous. Didion wrote this book in her 70s. I mention this because it impressed me her sharpness, her narrative, her talent to describe in simple words such complex emotions. Unlike other writers she stapled her thinking process on the book. This book and all the books I have read of hers. It is wonderful to see this from a writer’s point of view. But the most important happens when closing the book after reading the last page. The realisation that life is short. That at the end, no matter how famous, powerful, rich, the only think important in life is family, the only relevant is the relationships we have created with others. The only meaning of life is love.
A book 100% recommended. Luz