Compulsively Readable Paperbacks
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Blue Nights does what memoirs can do best: illuminate a crucial portion—and not the entirety—of a human life. In this case, prose master Joan Didion focuses on her relationship with her daughter, Quintana Roo, who she adopted in the late 1960s. Quintana grew up in the rarefied world of Malibu and movie-making. Despite the advantages—the closets full of Liberty lawn dresses, the bassinet from Saks—she struggled with the discovery of her biological parents, grappling with mental issues known collectively as "borderline personality," and using alcohol as a way to cope. Her struggle to recover from brain surgery, was covered in Didion's previous book The Year of Magical Thinking, a memoir that examined the extraordinary and excruciating loss that Didion suffered when her husband died and Quintana was hospitalized for many months. Blue Nights picks up a few years later after Quintana too has died. The lens of the story is less jaw-dropping in terms of fast-moving, tidal-wave events—and that is its power. The lens of Blue Nights is less extraordinary, less jaw-dropping in terms of circumstance—and that is its power.