blue nights


When you think about Joan Didion, you think about place. It is in her reporting on subjects like California’s water or California’s murders that Didion has mused on her own Sacramento childhood, a somewhat delirious combination of the rambling joy of Huckleberry Finn and the arid, upright strength of a Willa Cather character. “Goodbye to All That” is one of her best-loved pieces, passed down from mother to daughter to granddaughter, a still-resonant ode to New York City. Back in Los Angeles in the Sixties, there is music and mayhem, a baby, a house, and always the city itself, the state, the state of the state. She tells the story of a difficult moment in her marriage as a report about waiting in Hawaii for a tsunami that never came. Didion’s work has always been an evocation of the specificity of place, the climate, the geography, the feel of the air, the slang, the heat, the architecture or lack of it. In Blue Nights, however, all her landmarks are suddenly, terrifyingly, gone. A curtain in the emergency room of St. John’s hospital in Santa Monica is identical to an emergency room curtain in a New York hospital. The view of the East River, crowded with chunks of ice, from Beth Israel North hospital, is the same as the view of the Hudson River, crowded with chunks of ice, from Columbia Presbyterian hospital.

more from Cathleen Schine at the NYRB here.