I had very mixed feelings about this generally highly rated memoir by Joan Didion. The purpose of the book was to work through her grief following the unexpected deaths of both her husband and her daughter. If I were rating the book completely on this premise, I would have given the book five stars. However, the book came across as highly pretentious, which utterly ruined it for me.
All throughout the book Joan refers to numerous famous people, high end real estate and hotels, and other accoutrements of the lives of the rich and famous. If it had been occasional or if the references had directly related to the point of her book it wouldn’t have been an issue. Unfortunately, only one story of a friend whose daughter had been murdered had the remotest connection to Joan’s emotional journey. The book was an endless namedropping litany of people who I had never heard of but assume I should have based on her writing, recitation of hotel names such as the Ritz, and stories about jetting to Columbia for film festivals with famous actors taking a turn as pilot. The point of the book was supposed to be about loss and grief, and the majority of the book missed the mark completely.
In December of 2014, we lost our sixteen year old daughter. ten months later, in October of 2015, my mother passed away. With this shared experience of losing two loved ones so close together, I anticipated really being able to identify with this memoir. In that, I was not disappointed. I could absolutely identify with the author’s experiences in the hospital and with her feelings about trying to move forward after so tremendous a loss. Sadly, this element of the book was so overshadowed by the absolute pretension that permeated the work.
Despite not being as excited about the book as others, I still found the book a worthwhile read. I very much enjoyed Joan Didion’s writing style. Her prose was lucid and contemplative in places, lending a gentle, touching quality to her observations. There were some parts that I felt were a bit too close to home for me at the moment, making me happy I hadn’t read it sooner, but overall it felt comforting to know that she seems to understand where I am at. If you have been through the death of someone you are close to, I do recommend this book, even if it had its drawbacks.