narrator and protagonist of the book, a celebrated American journalist,
novelist, essayist, and screenwriter. Didion describes the events
of the year following her husband John’s death, during which her daughter
Quintana became seriously ill.
in-depth analysis of Joan Didion.
John Gregory Dunne
- Didion’s husband, a well-respected American novelist
and screenwriter. While sitting down to dinner in their home, John
dies suddenly of a massive heart attack. His death sets off a period
of profound grieving for Didion.
in-depth analysis of John Gregory Dunne.
Quintana Roo Dunne
- John and Didion’s adult daughter, adopted at birth.
While dealing with her husband’s death, Didion must also deal with
a severe string of ailments afflicting her only child.
in-depth analysis of Quintana Roo Dunne.
of Didion’s brother, Jim.
brother, the writer Dominick Dunne.
Dunne’s wife. After they first married, Didion would occasionally
goad John about the fact that his wife was not as put together or
social as Lenny.
- The daughter of John’s brother, Nick. A film actress,
Dominique was strangled to death by her boyfriend in 1982
at the age of twenty-two.
- Tony Dunne’s wife. At the time of Quintana’s collapse
at LAX, Rosemary was in poor health. When Tony calls Didion to tell
her of Quintana’s condition, she assumes he is calling because something
happened to Rosemary. She dies in June 2004
Friends and Associates
Joe and Gertrude Black
- A couple that John and Didion met in Indonesia in
s. Joe had left his job at the Rockefeller
Foundation to teach political science in Jogjakarta.
longtime friend of John and Didion’s, based in New York, who looks
after Quintana during both stages of her illness. Didion breaks
down in his office when he asks her how she’s doing.
deceased, former member of the Princeton Nassoons, an all-male university
singing group. Didion looks up MacFayden’s obituary when looking
for the name of the song that John used to sing when making fun
of the group.
friend of the Dunnes’. When Quintana collapses at LAX, Didion calls
Earl to see if she can use his house, and he offers her a spot on
the private plane he’s taking to L.A. the next day. While in L.A.,
he calls her daily, and when she doesn’t have plans for the evening
he takes her out for quiet dinners with friends.
Jean and Brian Moore
- Friends of Didion’s since the 1960
part of her social circle in Malibu from the early 1970
and Didion’s agent and friend. She comes to their apartment the
night of John’s death.
- A writer acquaintance of Didion’s. Didion connects
to a short story Robinson wrote about the loss of a child and briefly
contemplates contacting her but decides not to for fear of being
American writer and critic. He speaks at John’s funeral at St. John
best friend from the age of three. She speaks at John’s funeral,
participates in Quintana’s wedding, and visits UCLA during Quintana’s
illness. She and her husband Jesse have known Quintana since the
- A former
associate of Didion’s from Vogue,
Didion fictionalized in her novel Play It As It Lays
X had her operation at Beth Israel, the hospital in New York where
Quintana lies in a coma. Thinking of X leads Didion back to thoughts
of Quintana, setting off the vortex effect.
- A specialist in Santa Monica. He is mentioned on
two occasions: first, when Didion is trying to determine what will
happen to John after he dies, and then again when Didion remembers
his warning that John was a candidate for a “catastrophic cardiac event.”
The Man Behind the Wheel
- A man who dies suddenly while stopped at a red light.
John and Didion witnessed his death in New Orleans, and John remarked
how strange it was that, as they were watching, the man went from being
alive to dead almost instantly.