Tung's Reviews > The Year of Magical Thinking
The Year of Magical Thinking
by Joan Didion
by Joan Didion
A National Book Award-winner, this book is Didion’s personal memoir of the year following the death of her husband, writer John Dunne. Didion lays out her thought processes and emotions and struggle for normalcy after Dunne passes away suddenly one night at the dinner table from a heart problem. I didn’t find this book nearly as good as the hype would lead me to believe. The NY Times review called it an "indelible portrait of loss and grief." The NY Review of Books said "I can’t imagine dying without this book." For me, it earned none of the preceding words of praise. Books on grief have been done much better, including one referenced multiple times throughout Didion’s book (A Grief Observed by CS Lewis is far superior). I am absolutely convinced that the only reason Didion’s book received such notably positive press was because she and her husband were good friends with all these reviewers and the rest of the literary community, having bonded with these people at dinner parties on the Upper East Side in smoking jackets with martinis and cigars; Didion and Dunne were part of the NYC writing establishment Didion’s prose throughout is tight and reminiscent of early Vonnegut (his self-referencing style, not his humor), but there is an emotional distance in her writing. She quotes numerous studies on grief throughout the book, having spent the months following the tragedy not only grieving but studying grief. But the research studies don’t serve to illuminate her grief; they serve to distance us from her grief. Secondly, Didion lived a very upper-crust NY life, and the way she describes the events she will miss doing (dining at Morton’s with her husband, walking on the Jardin du Ranelagh in Paris with her husband, skipping the Monet exhibit to dine at Conti’s with her husband) further distances me from Didion’s grief. Personally, I don’t find rich people experiencing tragedy as tragic as I would find average people experiencing tragedy. I found this too emotionally detached to recommend it.
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