This is my first Didion. I came across her name while reading "The End of Life Book Club" and she got stuck onto my to-read pile. I didn't overly enjoy this book (who could?), but I can appreciate it for it's realism and honesty and poetic value.
The text was very repetitive. Part of this is because Didion is trying to emphasize her points. It is very repetitive. She is poetic and she illustrates her points repeatedly by using poignant statements repetitively. It really is very repetitive (and yes, my style is not as clean, but I think you get what I mean).
I enjoyed the way the book unfolded. Certainly as an autobiographical account there is no real plot or hidden outcome. We are told fairly early that Didion is suffering through the grief of losing her husband and her daughter in a fairly short period of time. We are not really ever told how Quintana died. For a long part of it, I was afraid it was a suicide. I actually had to look it up to be clear.
While most of it is rambling and poetic and a commentary on parenthood (which is hard for all of us...maybe especially: "She was already a person. I could never afford to see that." seeing our kids for what they really are and can become), she also touches on the theme of memory and privilege.
She reminds us that money does not translate into happiness and privilege (I would argue that upper class white folk in CA are privileged compared to world standards whether she wants to take it or not). I agree that dissatisfaction and insecurity are part of the human condition. And certainly, the stress of celebrity status comes with its own issues (see Lindsay Lohan for a great example of fucked up), and a disproportionate number of these same folks die too young (from "mistakes" like drugs, etc as well as "natural" fluke causes).
Didion also incorporates one of my favorite themes of enjoying the moment as it happens, rather than tucking things away as memories. She has quite a diatribe (in fact) against little mementos that she has saved around her house. "'You have your wonderful memories,' people said later, as if memories were solace. Memories were not. Memories are by definition of times past, things gone....Memories are what you no longer want to remember."
I was unsure if I agreed with Didion's guilt about Quintana's need to be adult. Didion seems to be concerned that she has somehow caused Quintana to prematurely mature. I'm not sure that Quintana's adult-like views are a function of her adoption. As the mother of a very precocious son, I think some kids are just more comfortable with adults: "my truest memories of the paradox she was--of the child trying not to appear as a child, of the strenuousness with which she tried to present the face of a convincing adult" just sounds to me like an apt description of a bright child.
I was not sure about the repetition and some of the decay in the writing. Since this is autobiographical and Didion is telling us about her lapses, I was suspicious of some of the writing. I was at times reminded a bit of Walter Mosley and Algernon and wondered if she was "faking" it a bit to heighten the drama. And if not, if this is evidence of some decline how did she convince her editors to let things stand? I guess I just wasn't sure sometimes if if was fictionalized.
Overall it was interesting and meaningful on many levels.