The novelist, essayist and memoirist Joan Didion has always required much from her readers. It's not the willing suspension of disbelief that is necessary, but rather a tolerance for her irony, terseness and repetition - a willingness to play along, to share in her emotions, instead of dismissing her trademark tools as self-indulgent artifice.
At her best, Didion's crackling incisiveness and honesty take you on a journey of existential doubt, despair and ultimately discovery, and you feel you can overcome the human condition with her. Alas, Blue Nights, her new memoir about the death of her daughter, falls short of her best.
Sure, it's the Didion we've come to know and (mostly) love, but also to question, the self-referential and gimlet-eyed observer who, after all, went to Hawaii to have her nervous breakdown; how bad could it have been? But in this harrowing go-round, you watch her grieve instead of grieving with her. Instead of happily marvelling at her courage, you sadly fear for her. To see her powers diminished is not enjoyable.