Adrienne Stapleton's Reviews > The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
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's review
Jan 09, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: own, feminism
Read in July, 2008

Didion recounts the death of her husband and illness of her daughter, both very sudden events. Didion weaves various elements together to paint the whole picture of the process of mourning including citations from Freud, medical textbooks, poems, autopsy reports, logs, and memories. Recurrent themes, beliefs, and principles emerge. In journalistic style, she lays bare her grief by describing its symptoms, reconstrucing events, and making observations.

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Quotes Adrienne Liked

Joan Didion
“It occurs to me that we allow ourselves to imagine only such messages as we need to survive.”
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Judy (new) - added it

Judy But did you like the book,what did you take away from it? One of the reasons I wanted to read this book is because it's always inspiring to me how people make it through loss and go on. I don't think very many people know how to forgive and move on (I'm not very good at it). Didion calls it magical thinking. What was magical? Did she do the Oprah thing knowing that she was living her best life ever and capture her ah ha moments in her journals? (These aren't bad things to do.) I think these kinds of losses push people over the edge, and I always wonder how people keep it together.

message 2: by Adrienne (last edited Jul 20, 2008 08:27PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Adrienne Stapleton I would read the book again because I think it is important. But Didion while grieving, resolves to resume her life. For example, she settles into a routine that helps her get on with her life so that she is on automatic. But I think the emphasis of her book is on death itself and her reaction to it during the year after the event. And her reaction is not pretty, but she doesn't throw tantrums. Instead, she finds that on some level she had trouble believing her husband of forty years is dead. She finds it hard to give away his shoes because subconsciously she believes he is coming back. She finds memories of her husband everywhere and they create "vortexes" back to the pain of his death.

I don't believe I learned anything from the book. Rather, I think it was an affirmation for me that grief is not simplistic and acts on many levels, the rational and the "magical" or delusional. Our culture shies away from expressions of grief; doctors treat it clinically; D.H. Lawrence says that "a small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without having felt sorry for itself." I have always felt our culture hides from death. We don't keen, wail, create space for mourning. Instead, we encourage the grieving to move on, and we admire those who are stalwart in the face of death. But I think Didion is championing a view of grief as a natural and important process that deserves space.

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