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Throughout the book, Quintana primarily functions as a
device through which Didion analyzes her feelings about grief, memory, and
the relationship between parents and children. Didion presents Quintana—from
her biographical details to the quirks of her personality—through
the prism of her personal memories of her daughter, rather than
showing the reader the live, adult Quintana as a fully-realized
character in her own right. Quintana functions in her mother’s memoir
much as the character of Cat does in John Dunne’s novel True
Confessions: that is, as a composite of memories and sayings
interpreted through a literary lens but ultimately distinct from
the actual person. Didion never shows the reader who Quintana really
is, preferring instead to analyze her relationship with her daughter
in the broadest terms. Though the logic behind this decision may
be purely practical, as a way of protecting the privacy of her late
daughter and her daughter’s husband Gerry, the result is a feeling
of deep affinity for Quintana without a corresponding understanding
of who she was a person. Since Quintana spends most of the book
in either a coma or a state of slow recovery, it makes sense that
Didion rarely interacts with her in a way that would allow us to
better understand Quintana. However, this literary strategy also
keeps the book’s focus on Didion’s relationship with John, allowing
Quintana’s presence to illustrate more abstract ideas about motherhood
and family. Quintana’s death, a tragic postscript to the events
of the memoir, only makes her apparent road to recovery in the final
chapters all the more emotionally resonant and painful.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Year of Magical Thinking!