Christopher Hitchens' words with an Annie Liebovitz photo create a stunning portrait of Joan Didion in the October issue of Vanity Fair. Included is this compelling moment from Blue Nights, Didion's forthcoming book about the death of her daughter:
Vanish.I loved The Year of Magical Thinking for one reason: reading it made me a better writer. The craft and soul of Joan Didion's writing is a legitimate superpower. It's X-ray vision. The ability to fly. Leap tall buildings. Spin Earth backwards on its axis.
Pass into nothingness: the Keats line that frightened her.
Fade as the blue nights fade, go as the brightness goes.
Go back into the blue.
I myself placed her ashes in the wall.
I myself saw the cathedral doors locked at six.
I know what it is I am now experiencing.
I know what the frailty is, I know what the fear is.
The fear is not for what is lost.
What is lost is already in the wall.
What is lost is already behind the locked doors.
The fear is for what is still to be lost.
You may see nothing still to be lost.
Yet there is no day in her life on which I do not see her.
Weirdly, what's healing in that book is the lack of cowtowing to the expectation that some healing element should be included in a book about grief. It's a book that honors the humbling enormity of grief and never insults that by hinting at any mechanism for coping with it. So I'm worried that Blue Nights is going to be that cubed. I just don't think I can have that superpower unleashed on me when it's pointed directly at a fear so deeply, terrifyingly visceral I can't even name it.
When my kids were little, I did the "Now I lay me down to sleep" thing with them every night, but I left out the part about "if I should die before I wake..." I have no fear of my own death. I feel certain my soul will live on. I'm not at all certain my soul would survive what Didion has experienced, and I don't have it in me right now to go there vicariously or even as a voyeur. This is like grief porn. It's unbearably graphic.
Maybe later. I pre-ordered, so it'll be sent to my Nook on the release date. I might do the entirely chickenshit thing and read it backwards so I get the benefit of the craft skill without taking the blunt force body slam of the narrative. More likely, I'll look away, look at my beautiful daughter and focus on life, and if that makes me a wimpy Pollyanna, hey man, tra la la.