Her re­port­ing, sub­jec­tive and per­sua­sive as it is, is of­ten cat­e­gorised along­side names like Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Nor­man Mailer and Hunter S Thomp­son

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - FRONT PAGE -

Cal­i­for­nia gave the cou­ple an es­cape from com­mu­ni­ties of writ­ers, which they savoured. In 1966, they adopted a daugh­ter and named her Quin­tana Roo, af­ter the Mex­i­can state on the Yu­catán Penin­sula.

Dunne, a friend re­veals in the doc­u­men­tary, was so con­cerned about the length of the wait be­fore her bap­tism that he took it upon him­self to “bap­tise” Quin­tana be­fore the of­fi­cial sacra­ment.

Their mar­riage was mostly happy, although in her reg­u­lar col­umn for Life magazine, Did­ion once wrote when they were vis­it­ing Honolulu, “this is­land in the mid­dle of the Pa­cific, in lieu of fil­ing for di­vorce”.

Footage of the fam­ily’s years in Cal­i­for­nia in the doc­u­men­tary is warm and dap­pled in sun­light. Quin­tana was a ra­di­ant child, recorded in close prox­im­ity to her par­ents, white-blonde and al­most al­ways bare­foot. Did­ion walks on the beach with Dunne, cig­a­rette in hand more than not.

Did­ion be­gan writ­ing for The New York Re­view of Books , a pe­ri­od­i­cal that be­came a happy and long-term home for her con­sid­ered re­port­ing on po­lit­i­cal scan­dals and so­ci­ety, in 1973. In the 1980s she re­leased two meaty works of non-fic­tion about places in im­mense flux, Mi­ami, and Salvador.

Her re­port­ing, sub­jec­tive and per­sua­sive as it is, is of­ten cat­e­gorised along­side names like Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Nor­man Mailer and Hunter S Thomp­son. Did­ion was one of the only women, if not the only wo­man, to suc­ceed in “New Jour­nal­ism”.

When it came to weeks spent in the field, her hus­band was an en­abling force. Dunne and Did­ion also wrote screen­plays to­gether, and, sit­ting in sep­a­rate of­fices at home, they would proof and edit one an­other’s work. (Dunne even edited the col­umn from Honolulu.)

The fam­ily re­turned to New York in 1988 af­ter 24 years in Cal­i­for­nia. Fifteen years later, in 2003, Dunne died of car­diac ar­rest at the din­ner ta­ble. Eigh­teen months af­ter that, Quin­tana, whose youth had been tur­bu­lent and in­ter­mit­tently trou­bled, died in hospi­tal from acute pan­cre­ati­tis. She was just 39.

The books Did­ion would go on to re­lease about their deaths — The Year of Mag­i­cal Think­ing and Blue Nights — are pen­e­trat­ing med­i­ta­tions on grief. Both pro­pelled her name into quar­ters it had not pre­vi­ously reached.

A re­lated sad­ness per­vades the 92-minute film: Did­ion is cap­tured walk­ing the halls of her apart­ment alone, or slowly as­sem­bling a cu­cum­ber and wa­ter­cress sand­wich at the kitchen counter. There is a cer­tain econ­omy of ex­pres­sion and in­to­na­tion that comes with age.

“The film will be very vis­ual by us­ing her prose,” Grif­fin Dunne, the di­rec­tor, who is Did­ion’s nephew, told Vogue, and this is indisputable. But it is easy to wish there was more of Did­ion her­self to see.

In lieu, bright mem­o­ries and ad­mir­ing in­sights are drawn from col­leagues and friends, in­clud­ing Vogue edi­tor Anna Win­tour, the ac­tress Vanessa Red­grave (who played Did­ion in The Year of Mag­i­cal Think­ing as it ap­peared on Broad­way in 2007) and the ac­tor Har­ri­son Ford, a one-time car­pen­ter at the Did­ion-Dunne home in Mal­ibu who was in­vited to fa­bled house par­ties and hol­i­day lunches.

Each time a seg­ment of Did­ion’s life is em­barked on in the film, the cam­era fo­cuses on a cover of one of her books, rest­ing on a shelf. Though cute, this doesn’t get into the breadth of her re­port­ing, or her fic­tion, or the tart­ness of her English.

For that, one must just read. The doc­u­men­tary con­sid­ers Did­ion’s per­son, her loves, and the places and ways in which she has spent her time. Real en­chant­ment with a write nec­es­sar­ily ex­tends beyond work and into life. Why else would any­body want to buy old sun­glasses or dig­i­tal copies of recipes?

The Cen­ter Will Not Hold is re­leased on Net­flix on Oc­to­ber 27

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