“Blue Nights” opens on July 26, 2010, on the anniversary of Quintana’s wedding day. Didion shares glimpses – the “peach-colored cake from Payard,” the red soles of her daughter’s Christian Louboutin shoes. Quintana herself remains elusive, seen in snatches and scraps of her mother’s memory. “Quintana is one of the areas about which I have difficulty being direct,” Didion writes.
She and Dunne adopted Quintana and brought her home from the hospital on March 3, 1966, when Didion’s career as a journalist was taking off. (She almost took the baby to Saigon, shopping for parasols and pastel dresses for them both. Happily, the trip was canceled.) When Quintana was small, the three traveled to New York, Honolulu, and Paris, staying in hotels while Dunne and Didion worked on screenplays like “The Panic in Needle Park” and profiled the band Chicago. The five-year-old learned to order triple lamb chops from room service and sign for Shirley Temples.
Didion is oddly defensive about the question of “privilege.” It may not have been a conventional upbringing, but it sounds like the trio had a lot of fun. And who’s to say “Bambi” isn’t more scarring than the “Nicholas and Alexandra” screening Didion took her daughter to?
“‘You have your wonderful memories,’ people said later, as if memories were solace,” Didion writes. “Memories are not.... Memories are what you no longer want to remember.”
Didion blames herself for many things: for not realizing the depth of Quintana’s fear of abandonment and for her own terror of not knowing what to do as a mother. “Once she was born I was never not afraid,” she writes, in what may be the book’s saddest sentence. When Quintana got her first loose tooth, her panicked mother nearly took her to the emergency room. “What I would not realize for another few years was that I had never been the only person in the house to feel the fear.”