Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

Name:

Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The end of this story

My mother had a birthday recently, and though we have a pact not to exchange gifts, a few months ago I found her the pefect one, and bought it. Of course this perfect gift was a book: Regards: The Selected Nonfiction of John Gregory Dunne. The edition was used, at Pegasus, with a forward by Calvin Trillin.

I held the book a few weeks, waiting until my mother's birthday to mail it. In the interim she emailed me announcing she'd made the most wondrous find. I wrote back wryly, mailing her the book anyway. She returned her (new) copy, suggesting we both read it.

----------------

Our love of Joan Didion's work arose independently but is equally passionate. My mother keeps a special shelf to house Didion's books; we each bought The Year of Magical Thinking the day it came out. When notices of the play began running, we fantasized a trip to New York.

My mother also likes Dominick Dunne, whose Hollywood gossip puts me off, and has, I think, read some John Gregory Dunne. A few years ago I found a hardback copy of Quintana and Friends in a hospital charity shop. I sent it to her.

Until today I had read no John Gregory Dunne. I don't know why, really. Just never got around to it. But in paging though the table of contents, I found the essay "Quintana," which is about her equanimity regarding her adopted status.

--------------------------


The Didion Dunne family was royalty to us; they were our personal Kennedys. Perhaps the Didion Dunnes were not as beautiful, but they were brilliant. They were the best thing in the world there was to be: writers. Great writers. And their family! Dominick, another writer. His daughter Dominique, an actress. Griffin, another actor. And Quintana, who grew up to be the next best thing to a writer: a photographer.

Quintana Roo Dunne was a year older than I. Her work appeared in the shelter magazines I read in my twenties: Elle Decor, Metropolitan Home. Read the byline on Joan Didion's author photos: Quintana. The photo of John Gregory Dunne on the cover of Regards: Quintana.

Quintana's devastated health plays a large role in The Year of Magical Thinking, but one is left with the hopeful impression of recovery, which never came: she died on August 26th, 2005. She was thirty-nine years old. The age I am now.

I remember arriving at work on August 26th, 2005, the first real business day of the academic year, the real new year in my world. I logged on the computer, and as I do every morning, checked the New York Times online, where I found Quintana's obituary. I remember my dismay as, near tears, I emailed my husband and my mother. Nobody in my office had heard of Joan Didion, much less her daughter.

-----------------------------

There are people whose lives somehow intersect with ours without ever really doing so. That is, we are interested in them for some reason or other. For most this means reading articles or looking at the photos or watching them on tv as they age alongside us, parallel, never meeting. In rare cases interest grows into obsession and the Quintanas of the world are stalked. But I was not a stalker. Just an interested observer. What was it like to grow up with two of the finest writers alive? To take for granted that Mommy is with Otto Preminger, who has no hair? That Mommy will take you to see Georgia O'Keefe's Sky Above Clouds at the Chicago Art Institute? That you will be surrounded by famous writers and actors as a matter of course? That you will appear in People magazine with your parents on a Malibu deck?

Oh, that photograph. It's on the back of Magical Thinking now. Joan holds a cigarette; her drink, which looks like a vodka tonic, rests alongside her on the deck's wooden railng. She is looking away from the camera at John and Quintana. She wears a long dress and a half smile and it's the only photograph I've ever seen of her looking truly happy. John is looking at the camera, his own drink cradled in his hands, his body bent over Quintana, who is blonde, beautiful, and looks into the camera with a knowing expression beyond her ten years. The California coastline stretches behind this impossibly glamorous family, a line of earth meeting water, the edge of America.

________________________________


At the time of John Gregory Dunne's death, Quintana was unconscious. Various things had gone horribly wrong--things that never should in an otherwise healthy young woman--and Quintana did not recover. She left her new husband and notoriously fragile mother behind. Also relatives, friends, and strangers like me.

-----------------------------

In Dunne's essay, he writes admiringly of Quintana's aplomb. Faced with a group of twenty chattering little girls at her eighth birthday party, she imperiously announced her adopted status, rendering it something enviable. She did not, it seems, ever develop qualms about her birth mother or inquire about her unknown birth father. Instead she asked her parents the occasional question, leaving Didion and Dunne to endure the idiotic remarks and patronizing literature of adoption. Dunne readily acknowledges his daughter may decide to search for her birth mother, and knowing her name, is likely to find her. But, he writes:

"All parents realize, or should realize, that children are not possessions, but are only lent to us, angel boarders, as it were. Adoptive parents realize this earlier and perhaps more poignantly than others. I do not know the end of this story." (331)

We do.

14 Comments:

Blogger Lori said...

I, too, wrote a blog post about the photo on the back cover of "Magical Thinking."

I enjoyed this post. I learned a few new things about the Didion Dunnes.

Thank you for the info on the essay on Quintana and on the adoption quote.

August 04, 2007 9:19 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

Thank you, I really enjoyed reading this post. I found it searching for Joan's essay on Georgia O'Keefe.

I've only read a little bit of Joan Didion, including A Year of Magical Thinking. Heartbreaking stuff. Thanks for your perspective on it.

October 03, 2007 12:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the post. I just finished reading Year of... and needed to know what happened to Quintana. A gentle way of learning of such a tragic sequence of events

February 16, 2008 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Ylajali said...

I am a Norwegian woman about your age. I found this blog while searching for what happened to Quintana. In her mother's book Magical years, we only know that she is ill, and in fact recovers at the end of the book. Interesting blog by the way! I will look into it more often after this! Thank you.

May 22, 2008 5:46 AM  
Blogger Editor said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I dated Quintana Roo Dunne in college after she photographed me for the school paper. It was the best photograph of me ever taken.

Quintana became the Photo Editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator, even though she was a transfer student. Most of the editors were on staff since freshman year.

Quintana was the most fabulous person on campus, even though she spent most of her time off-campus in NYC. She was the most fabulous person I ever met.

People were constantly calling her, probably paging her in those days, and she was always going to the best and most happening places with other young socialites. I would have preferred more quiet time with just her, but she was always moving at the speed of buzz.

One time we got together completely randomly. She was in a limo with two friends, one of whom was obnoxiously drunk and aggressive; in public life he was an MTV host who had the most edgy show on the network back in the 1980s when MTV was the most interesting thing on TV. Quintana saw me on the street, had the limo pulled up, and in it I went even though I was originally heading to a party with a bottle of booze and some flowers that ended up in Quintana's possession. The drunken MTV host nearly came to blows with me when he locked himself in Quintana's apartment-dorm room with the model-beautiful leggy Asian woman who was with them in the limo. In retrospect, I assess that it was his limo and his party that night.

Quintana showed some aplomb and kicked them both out. He was being quite piggy! I haven't seen him on TV nor heard from his persona for decades, but I reviled him for the next couple of years after that evening when I saw his show.

I was glad to be with Quintana Roo whenever we could, which would often be months apart. I composed cute limericks telling her how I missed her and would like to spend more time with her. I would hand the scraps of paper to her after she would return from making her calls or smoking her cigarettes outside. Or I'd read her such limericks on my answering machine messages to her. They would often be along the lines of 'Quintana Roo, I miss you!'

I think Roo was really pronounced Row. But Roo was so playful and funny, like a kangaroo, and Quintana Roo Dunne was her by-line, so that was what I called her, Quintana Roo, and sometimes Quintana because she was the quintessence of what I liked.

I felt so alive with her, and she was so beautiful, charismatic, and intense and funny. Quintana liked to dance and meet up with her friends. She had a wonderful cigarette-raspy voice, accent, and timbre; no one sounded like her. She had quite a sense of humor, and I thought she could write professionally, too, but I couldn't imagine the pressure of writing with two famous writer parents.

It was hard to keep up with her pace, and I was one of the most energetic and frenetic in college! And that was what did us in the last time we were together around 20 years ago at Radio City Music Hall in the front of the orchestra section attending a Siouxie and the Banshees concert. I was burning my candle at three ends those days, but Quintana Roo had no patience for not keeping up with her, and so we never spoke again after our date was cut short. I heard about her disappointment in me from some mutual friends a while after I stopped hearing back from her. It was a little embarrassing, but I felt I deserved a little more compassion from her.

Even so, if she ever called me, or encountered me on the street again, I'd be right there for her! It is humiliating to admit that, but that was how much I crushed on her and how much I enjoyed her company, what little shreds I could tow onto.

I found out about her death randomly reading a Barnard Alumnae magazine last year or so. The death notice was quite spare, and our one mutual friend whom I reached out to didn't offer me any more details, as if the details could maybe comfort me or do something more.

The sad sudden news followed me around a bit for a while. I thought of how abruptly and awkwardly she dropped me, how fun and beautiful and energetic she was; how she could outdrink most, certainly me. I had never 'seen' someone who died.

Then last month (October 2008) I dreamed about her passing, and I was crying in my sleep out of grief for her. I was telling people who didn't know her that she died, but it was hard to explain to those who didn't know her why they should care. This was, seemingly, a dream from nowhere. I was truly surprised when I awakened.

I have been a big fan of Joan Didion, her mother, since high school, so I marched to the Strand bookstore and bought the last copy of "The Year of Magical Thinking" to somehow make some more sense of what happened. I had avoided the book after it was initially released when it got coverage on the radio book shows on WNYC.org. I am reading it now, and I did a web search trying to find out about her life after we parted.

I am glad she continued in photography and was successful as a professional, and that she found focused love marrying a musician. I feel for his loss, which must be tremendous, and I hope that people offer him some understanding.

November 30, 2008 12:18 PM  
Blogger sue kaufman said...

I met Quintana Roo once, late in her life. She was fat as a cow, and carried with her the attitude of a supermodel. In other words, elite creep syndrome. I still can't get over the post about the guy who mentioned her as being named photo editor of the spectator like it was an accomplishment. Give me a break, she probably got the job for the same reason Columbia even accepted her. Certainly it wasn't her big fat ass.

October 15, 2009 12:24 PM  
Anonymous Cindy Newburg said...

Thank you to “ Editor “ for his post. I have looked high and low for info on Quintana’s life as an adult and have found next to nothing on the internet.

I guess I am a sucker for happy endings and really wanted to see that she had experienced a full recovery from her illness….. I appreciate the time Editor took to write his post because it also shed a little light on her personality for me. Her personality was something I really couldn’t get a feel for by reading her Mom’s last book “ The year of my magical thinking “

Growing up in the 70’s my best friend’s grandparents lived next door to the “ Kahala “ hotel This is the same one mentioned in the book as being so special to Joan Didion. Jack Lord of the Hawaii Five O TV show was also a resident of that apt building but to us kids the action was really happening next door at the Hilton.

So that is where we went.

There used to be a swimming platform right off shore from the Kahala Hilton and we would often spend entire days on that thing inventing dives and meeting other kids who were staying at the hotel. When we tired of the ocean we would jump into the swimming pool or just wander around the hotel looking for new kids to meet.

Compared to the large resorts that were built in the 80’s & 90’s the old Kahala Hilton hotel is nothing to look at really. In fact, the only thing that gets me over there anymore these days are the Animal Rights Hawaii protest regarding the cruel capativity of dophins in their small ( and filthy ) salt water pool.

But back in the 70’s it WAS full of stars and it was safe enough that children could – and would – run around completely unsupervised just having fun meeting each other.

May God bless Quintana Roo and give her Mom peace and happiness in her final years.

October 22, 2009 3:32 PM  
Blogger Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

I know I'm a couple years late on this, but I was just Googling for info about Quintana Roo Dunne and came across this post. I just wanted to pop in to say that it's really, really beautiful. I hope you're doing other writing while away from your blog -- you certainly have a talent for it!

January 11, 2010 2:40 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

Husband dead, daughter dead. Isn't this why Jesus Mary 'n' Joseph the Good Lord invented the Irish ballad? I mean if there is ruminating on the "state of things" and how the world be going to hell in a hand basket shite 'n' shamus on our collective kissers you be a wantin' lads and lassies there is the autobiography of another sanctimonious Irish (half Irish anyway) blowhard by the name of W.B. Yeats...at least he had REAL talent. I mean why encourage the cutting down of trees to print JDs "travelogue" view of reality when soon we'll be needin' the paper to wipe our arses. It's criminal.

April 23, 2010 12:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted as 'Editor' 11/2008 about my personal experiences with QRD.

I deeply regret sharing negative things personal experiences I had with her. I don't like it when MY confidence is brokenwhich I described. I did that to her while I'm supposed to be mature. Our encounters were when we were in our early 20s. I betrayed her.

In addition, I have not consistently broken off relations with lovers in the best way either. I don't want those failings on the Internet forever.

I am ashamed of what I wrote. If any of her loved ones read my posts, please accept my abject apology.

Based on the harshness of some other comments, I don't even think that it will do much to soothe her family with our apologies for denigrating her real talent, her later appearance, which was probably affected by her medical condition, which killed her so young. Before her illness, when we were in our prime, she was one of the most beautiful looking and attractive women I ever saw. I also left out that QRD was very loyal to her friends and loved ones.

There is something valid to be said about the admionishment against speaking ill of the departed.

QRD's mother, husband, loved ones, relatives, and friends might encounter these posts, even accidentally, and I think the tone of some of them are awful and would make their pain from her loss acute, even decades later. QRD cannot defend herself, and her loved ones cannot defend her.

When my father died someone used deprecating 'humor,' telling about my father's failings in front of a room full of his surviving colleagues there to honor him. They were subordinate to this jerk, so the flunkies applauded him and slapped him on the back.

My father would have been deeply embarrassed had he been there.

Even though people said positive things about my father's life, it was the negative ones, spoken by one person in a two-hour program that stick with me.

This forum is like that forum because it is public. The difference is that this forum will persist, while my father's insults passed through air, and are mostly forgotten.

The experience was humiliating. It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

In the aftermath, I was able to get this CEO's email address to tell him about my family's pain that he opened up and increased for weeks. Instead of responding to me, he responded to my late father's secretary expressing his surprise about my reaction, which others congratulated him on. QRD's family cannot confront us, many of us who do not even have our contact information on here, including me.

In one of my emails to this CEO jerk who insulted my late father after his death, I pointed out that he was in a bubble. He overestimates his funniness because flunkies always laugh at his jokes. His not responding to me was cowardly.

My family investigated suing him for libel. We didn't because the dead can't defend themselves against anything, even represented by the deceased's estate executors.

We as bloggers or commenters are in a bubble similar to this cowardly jerky CEO's. I am writing in a bubble right now in this field/box, which I will anonymously submit to Blogger, which is owned by Google, the world's leading source of information.

Tangentially, J_a_ D_d___'s writings are some of my favorite. JD was her mother. And my father loved her father's, J__h_ Du___e's books.

I am not posting QRD's family's full names so as not to further promote the mixed reviews of their lives in a google search ranking.

Please folks, be careful when personally criticizing on the public internet, especially anonymously.

July 19, 2010 11:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I posted as 'Editor' 11/2008 about my personal experiences with QRD.

I deeply regret sharing negative things personal experiences I had with her. I don't like it when MY confidence is broken, which I did to her memory. And I'm supposed to be mature. Our encounters were when we were in our early 20s. I betrayed her.

In addition, I have not consistently broken off relations with lovers in the best way either. I don't want those failings on the Internet forever.

I am ashamed of what I wrote. If any of her loved ones read my posts, please accept my abject apology.

Based on the harshness of some other comments, I don't even think that it will do much to soothe her family with our apologies for denigrating her real talent, her later appearance, which was probably affected by her medical condition, which killed her so young. Before her illness, when we were in our prime, she was one of the most beautiful looking and attractive women I ever saw. I also left out that QRD was very loyal to her friends and loved ones.

There is something valid to be said about the admionishment against speaking ill of the departed.

QRD's mother, husband, loved ones, relatives, and friends might encounter these posts, even accidentally, and I think the tone of some of them are awful and would make their pain from her loss acute, even decades later. QRD cannot defend herself, and her loved ones cannot defend her.

When my father died someone used deprecating 'humor,' telling about my father's failings in front of a room full of his surviving colleagues there to honor him. They were subordinate to this jerk, so the flunkies applauded him and slapped him on the back.

My father would have been deeply embarrassed had he been there.

Even though people said positive things about my father's life, it was the negative ones, spoken by one person in a two-hour program that stick with me.

This forum is like that forum because it is public. The difference is that this forum will persist, while my father's insults passed through air, and are mostly forgotten.

The experience was humiliating. It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

In the aftermath, I was able to get this CEO's email address to tell him about my family's pain that he opened up and increased for weeks. Instead of responding to me, he responded to my late father's secretary expressing his surprise about my reaction, which others congratulated him on. QRD's family cannot confront us, many of us who do not even have our contact information on here, including me.

In one of my emails to this CEO jerk who insulted my late father after his death, I pointed out that he was in a bubble. He overestimates his funniness because flunkies always laugh at his jokes. His not responding to me was cowardly.

My family investigated suing him for libel. We didn't because the dead can't defend themselves against anything, even represented by the deceased's estate executors.

We as bloggers or commenters are in a bubble similar to this cowardly jerky CEO's. I am writing in a bubble right now in this field/box, which I will anonymously submit to Blogger, which is owned by Google, the world's leading source of information.

Tangentially, J_a_ D_d___'s writings are some of my favorite. JD was her mother. And my father loved her father's, J__h_ Du___e's books.

I am not posting QRD's family's full names so as not to further promote the mixed reviews of their lives in a google search ranking.

Please folks, be careful when personally criticizing on the public internet, especially anonymously.

July 19, 2010 11:20 AM  
OpenID profacero said...

Where do people get off posting the hateful things they've written up thread? There's someone commenter writing in the same tone about JD's memoir on Dunne's death. Strange.

November 29, 2010 11:00 PM  
Anonymous Don Feeney said...

Stumbling rather late onto this blog, I found out belatedly about Quintana's death. I knew and studied with her for a couple of years in painting classes at Columbia. She was all over the campus with her camera and maybe because of that was a pretty good model in class when the instructor had us make B&W paint sketches of something in the room. I made a pretty good likeness of her sitting at an easel and wonder where it is now. I remember her talkative side and the time she strongly insisted I NOT walk home across the Williamsburg Bridge after visiting our teacher's studio.
I resent that insulting comment posted above, if one has nothing positive to say, just leave it alone.

April 20, 2012 12:35 AM  
Blogger Sheila Quarry said...

Quintana was an alcoholic and wanted out.it's the pain thing. One can only take so much and then it becomes apparent that mothers are known for not being perfect or not being all- knowing. Joan Didion lives on through her literary output. Great gift she has!

November 16, 2016 11:52 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home