From Publishers Weekly
After her husband's fatal heart attack, which came at a time when their daughter Quintana was in intensive care for complications after pneumonia, Didion was labeled "a pretty cool customer" by a social worker because she seemed to be handling these shocks so calmly. Caruso's reading certainly reflects this aspect of Didion's reaction—sometimes her clear, elegant voice seems downright cold, making the listener wish for a little more emotion. The slightly eerie sounds of bells and cello that swell in at occasional breaks in the narration help in this respect, but mostly the audiobook is as straightforward a production as Didion wanted her life to be in that horrible year. Throughout those months, Didion immersed herself in the literature of grief and quotes frequently from poets and writers who helped her come to terms with her pain. Caruso does a good job with these passages, lingering on and highlighting certain phrases that Didion returns to time and again, shifting their meaning slightly as she progresses. Despite trying to write in an almost clinically detached way, Didion's sorrow and anger do break through at times in the book. Unfortunately, Caruso's cool reserve never cracks, so this audio ends up making less of an impact than the National Book Award– winning print edition.
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Didion's husband, the writer John Gregory Dunne, died of a heart attack, just after they had returned from the hospital where their only child, Quintana, was lying in a coma. This book is a memoir of Dunne's death, Quintana's illness, and Didion's efforts to make sense of a time when nothing made sense. "She's a pretty cool customer," one hospital worker says of her, and, certainly, coolness was always part of the addictive appeal of Didion's writing. The other part was the dark side of cool, the hyper-nervous awareness of the tendency of things to go bad. In 2004, Didion had her own disasters to deal with, and she did not, she feels, deal with them coolly, or even sanely. This book is about getting a grip and getting on; it's also a tribute to an extraordinary marriage.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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