TK421's Reviews > The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
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's review
Dec 21, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: essays-auto-bio
Read in September, 2011

I am not the type of person that cries at funerals. I find crying at a funeral as constructive as trying to stop a raging river with a few paper towels and a bag of sand, nothing is achieved. Find me not callous, for I am sensitive to the recently departed and their family. It's just that...I don't know...I know there is nothing that can be done to bring back that person. Rereading the above really makes me sound like an ass so let me try it another way: death is something we all have to accept; my acceptance of death comes more easily than it does for others.

Take Didion for example. Here we have a very educated woman who foggily ambles through the year following her husband's (John Gregory Dunne) death. John died of a severe infarction. He had a long history of heart issues. He knew this was the way he was going to die. But even with all this evidence, his personal testimony, Didion finds the death of her husband shocking, as if she were blindsided. (I’ll grant that no one wants to be in mid-conversation with someone when they die.) Now stop cursing me, let me continue. John’s death in-and-of-itself does not make this story compelling. Quintana, John and Didion’s daughter, and her sickness is what makes this story compelling. You see, we are all going to die. Husbands will have to bury wives, and wives will have to bury husbands. That’s life. But none of us ever want to experience having to bury a child. And the way that Didion structures her story allows her to think she is grieving for her husband, when, in reality, she is telling their story to mask the fact that she is scared shitless about losing her daughter.

You see, Didion does a great job of recounting the great love her and John shared for almost forty years. But some of the details that she gives the reader really only show that we (the readers) will never know what it was like to live a life with John. We’ll never know what it feels like to get a free ticket on the Concorde; we’ll never know what it’s like to get free tickets from the NBA commissioner; basically, we’ll never know what it was like to live a life of affluence and prestige. But, even without ever knowing this aspect of her life, we will all more than likely at some point fear for our child, which is the bridge that connects us to Didion. During the chaotic (brilliant narration, stylistic technique) timelines and temporal displacements via vortexes, Didion is unable to mask the fear she has of losing her only child. Unfortunately, Didion also realizes that this year of magical thinking is less about her husband and more about her daughter and closes the door for us readers over and over again just as we are about to get a real true glimpse into Didion’s grief. You see, Didion was able to deal with her husband’s death; what she was unable to deal with was the possibility of losing her child.

But even with the absence of these concrete feelings, and the insertion of insights from countless psychiatrists and research papers about grief, the story works. Didion understands that she might be able to hide from the reader, allow for what information is passed-along to us, as long as she is able to stay one step in front of her feelings. Fortunately for us, grief and confusion and frustration and anger and misery know no boundaries. What is never said on the written page is said with infinite detail in the between spaces of events and conversations within the story. The year of which Didion chronicles is truly heart-wrenching; I’m pretty sure I would not be able to cope as well as she did. But it is also full of promise, redemptions, and hope.

This is a beautiful and tragic story, one that is sure to become a classic concerning death and the grieving process.

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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Sandy I want to retread this book after reading your review. I wish I could express myself as well as you have.

message 2: by Mark (new)

Mark excellent. Thank you

TK421 Mark wrote: "excellent. Thank you"

You, sir, are welcome.

Nancy Rossman Very well put. And BTW, I don't think you're an ass:)

TK421 Nancy wrote: "Very well put. And BTW, I don't think you're an ass:)"

Thanks, Nancy!

message 6: by Phyllis (new) - added it

Phyllis Searles Wow. Very insightful...and more sensitive than you want to take credit for. Such depth of understanding. Made me understand and like the book even

Nancy Rossman Yes Phyllis. Agree totally

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