Over the past few days I read Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, a memoir where she crosses decades and places in a rhythm that reflects the way one’s mind might naturally drift, centered around the death of her daughter, parenting, and aging. It was a different reading experience for me: as always, Didion is sharp and poignant, but I realized that this book isn’t the same kind of personal essay she includes in Slouching Toward Bethlehem. It’s not a chronicle of processing a singular grief like The Year of Magical Thinking . This book was unsettling because it is about the inescapable messiness and ache of being human and the fact that there are things over which we have no power to change.
Didion challenges the reader as she herself is challenged: the fact that we cannot go back in time to revise the way we handled something. The fact that we cannot hold on to each moment forever. That in the end, we may be left with a vast store memories to which we cannot return.
“There was a periods, a long period…which I believed that I could keep people fully present, keep them with me, by preserving their mementoes…The detrius of this misplaced belief now fills the drawers and closets of my apartment in New York…The objects for which there is no satisfactory resolution…In theory these mementos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here. How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is something else I could never afford to see,” (page 44, 45, 46).
I think this is a must read for anyone who is familiar with Didion’s work–the rawness of her prose captures the difficulty that is being human, and though she doesn’t offer answers, it is as though the reader can realize we are all in the mess together. And that is something.