Joan Didion’s essays and novels are famous for their study of American morals and cultural chaos. She’s written for Vogue, Esquire, the Saturday Evening Post, the New York Times, and many more world-class publications. But the two works I’m talking about today are very different from Didion’s societal commentary.
I am recommending her pair of companion memoirs, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights. Together, they grapple to make sense of loss, mourning, aging, and the end of Didion’s life as she knew it. The Year of Magical Thinking details the sudden death of John Gregory Dunne, Didion’s husband and writing partner of nearly 40 years. Shortly before the book was published, the couple’s adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, also passed away. In less than two years, Didion buried her entire family, and was left reliving and reanalyzing her losses alone. Blue Nights is dedicated to savoring her daughter’s life in an attempt to come to terms with her death.
Didion employs her iconic reportage and research, which allows her to make these memoirs universal guides to grieving sans self-pity. They tell the story of every person’s loss—the need to understand the meticulous medical details of an illness or the derangement that accompanies grief.
She writes, “I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us. I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead.”
While the surface subject of the books is a little morose, Didion’s writing draws the reader through gorgeous portraits of marriage, motherhood, love, life and loss. Both books are available for check out at the Sioux City Public Library.