In The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion looked back on the time she shared with her late husband John Gregory Dunne. She also reflected on the works he wrote and quite a few surprised her upon giving them another reading.
John had written a tornado into Nothing Lost. I remember reading the last-pass galleys in Quintana’s room at Presbyterian and crying when I hit the passage with the tornado…A night or two before he died John asked me if I was aware how many characters died in the novel…He had been sitting in his office making a list of them. I added one he had overlooked.
Dutch Shea, Jr.
I believe John would have said that Dutch Shea, Jr. was about faith. When he began the novel he already knew what the last words would be, not only the last words of the novel but the last words thought by Dutch Shea before he shoots himself: “I believe in Cat. I believe in God.” Credo in Deum. The first words of the Catholic catechism.
Later in the summer I received another book from Princeton. It was a first edition copy of True Confessions...In fact it was John’s own copy: he had apparently sent it to a classmate who was organizing for the fiftieth reunion of the Class of 1954, an exhibition of books written by class members. ‘It occupied the position of honor,’ the classmate wrote to me, ‘since John was unquestionably the most distinguished writer in our class.’ I studied the original dust jacket, slightly frayed, on the copy of True Confessions. I remember the first time I saw this jacket, or a mock-up of this jacket. It had sat around our house for days…the idea being to gauge whether or not it would wear well, continue to please the eye. I opened the book. I looked at the dedication. ‘For Dorothy Burns Dunne, Joan Didion, Quintana Roo Dunne,’ the dedication read. ‘Generations.’ I had forgotten this dedication…I reread True Confessions. I found it darker than I had remembered it.
I reread Harp. I found a different, less sunny, version of the summer we watched Tenko and went to dinner at Morton’s. Something else had happened toward the end of that summer…[In] Harp, the writer, John, examines the veracity of this (his own) account. He notes a name changed, a certain dramatic restructuring, a minor time collapse. He asks himself: ‘Anything else?’ This was the answer he gave: ‘When I told my wife he scared the shit out of me, I started to cry.’ Either I had not remembered this or I had determinedly chosen not to remember this. I had not sufficiently appreciated it.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.