Memoir, Grief literature


Joan Didion

Point of view 

First person


Introspective, melancholy, matter-of-fact



Setting (time) 

December 2003 through December 2004; various times in flashback

Setting (place) 

New York City and Los Angeles; various locations in flashback


Joan Didion

Major conflict 

Journalist Joan Didion attempts to come to terms with her grief over the sudden death of her husband, John, and her adult daughter Quintana’s serious illness.

Rising action 

Didion must cope with the sudden shock and aftermath of her husband John’s death while caring for her ailing daughter, Quintana.


Quintana collapses and undergoes neurosurgery, requiring Didion to fly to Los Angeles to be with her daughter while still reeling from the death of her husband.

Falling action 

As Quintana’s health begins to improve, Joan Didion begins to come to terms with the feelings of helplessness and insanity that dominated the year after her husband’s death.


After she first tells Quintana about her father’s death, Didion reveals that she will have to tell her daughter about her father’s death three times before Quintana absorbs the news.